Amina and Sarah Said
Yaser Said's daughters, Amina and Sarah, were two beautiful, lively, and academically ambitious American girls, growing up in Irving and Lewisville, suburbs of Dallas. According to Texas relatives, their Egyptian-born father, Yaser, physically, sexually, and psychologically abused the girls starting when they were around 8 and 9. He routinely monitored and stalked them and threatened their lives. Their mother, Texas-born Patricia ("Tissie") Said, denied Yaser's violence. She also persuaded her daughters to recant their accusations of sexual abuse since "Daddy would have to go to jail."
Guns were everywhere at home. Tissie, who married Yaser when she was 15, said she thought it was just a joke. Walls were punched, computers and desks broken, eyes blackened, cheeks reddened—braces embedded into lips. Things escalated when Amina refused to marry an unknown, much older man in Egypt for the sake of her father's honor—and bank account. Things really escalated when their father learned that they had Christian boyfriends, one of whom was Black and Hispanic. Now, Yaser viewed his daughters as "sluts" and "whores," whom he must kill.
Late in 2007, 18-year-old Amina and 17-year-old Sarah finally ran away with two friends, boys, who wanted to help save their lives. Strangely, Tissie went along, possibly in order to spy on them for Yaser. After she returned home, Tissie implored her daughters to come back. She assured them that Yaser would not harm them.
They returned—and within hours, on Jan. 1, 2008, Yaser allegedly shot them to death in his taxicab. One of the dying girls called the police, said that her father had shot them both, and that they were dying.
Later that year, the FBI described the double homicides as an "honor killing." The Bureau put Yaser on its Ten Most Wanted list. Mustafaa Carroll, then a representative of the Dallas Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) office, condemned this categorization as for potentially stigmatizing the Muslim community. The FBI deleted the phrase "honor killing." Yaser Said, it then said, was wanted for "murder."
Perhaps the FBI and the Irving Police Department were right. A murder is a murder, and "what led him to do that at this point to us is irrelevant," Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey told reporters. Describing him as an "honor killer" might limit their chances of catching him or might prejudice his trial.
But motive ought to matter, if not for a prosecution, then to help understand the threat too many Muslim women face.
In a 1999 case in Cleveland, a Palestinian-American woman, Methel Dayem, was murdered because she refused to marry her cousin, and chose to lead an "independent" life. However, the prosecutor used the phrase "honor killing" which was deemed "inflammatory," "prejudicial" and "anti-Arab." Local Muslim Arab communities denounced the phrase as a "cultural slur." Two cousins were charged with her murder, but neither was convicted.
In 2008, I interviewed four female members of Tissie Said's family. Her sister, Connie Moggio, told me that Yaser's "controlling and violent nature gripped the family from the start. Once, he shot out the tires on his wife's car to keep her home. Another time, he blocked Moggio's car when she was trying to help Tissie and the children escape."
"Amina was seen at school with red welts and bruises," Moggio said, "and she'd once confided that her father had kicked her in the face and threatened to kill her."
Tissie's great aunt, Gail Gartell, said: "This is another face of Jihad. These men come here from Egypt, marry American women in order to become American citizens. Their wives convert to Islam. Then, they have children who are natural-born American citizens but who are raised to hate America and to want to live under Sharia law." Amina and Sarah did not conform to that ideology. They were killed.
After the murders, Yaser kept calling Tissie's Christian family to threaten them for exposing his violence. Islam said he would blow up Gartrell's house. Both Islam's and Yaser's rage was highly volatile and at "fever-pitch, 95% of the time."
Great-aunt Jill Abplanalp launched a petition imploring the authorities to arrest Tissie. Abplanalp read me an email that Irving Police Det. Joe Hennig sent her in 2012. There was "not enough evidence" to arrest Tissie, he wrote. "Tissie may be guilty of making some bad decisions or having bad judgement... but there are no criminal charges that can be filed against her."
Twisting Self Defense
It is important to understand that an honor killer and his collaborators feel that they're acting in self-defense, that once he believes the family honor has been tainted, the designated perpetrator has no choice—he is the victim: the aggressor is the one who has dishonored him.
Islam Said openly blamed his sisters' deaths on their boyfriends. He grabbed the microphone at a school Memorial Celebration for Amina and Sarah and said that the "boyfriends killed my sisters. They pulled the trigger, not my dad. My dad is the victim here. They knew the rules. They broke them."
What could these girls have done to save their lives? No school official or social service agency intervened to remove them from their home, the police had not been summoned, their mother was either unwilling to, or incapable of, protecting them.
This same pattern applies in other honor killing cases in North America. Girls are normatively beaten, psychologically humiliated, and closely monitored in order to render them helpless and compliant. Mothers lure their daughters home to be killed and/or they conspire, collaborate, and cover for the designated killers. Honor killing families expect daughters to live here as if they'd never left the West Bank, Afghanistan, or Iraq.
This is precisely what happened in St. Louis to Palestinian-American, Tina Isa, whose crime was becoming "too American," and having an African-American friend, who was a boy. Her father, Zein Isa, was an Abu Nidal terrorist. He and his wife stabbed Tina to death in 1989. She, too, had been beaten and attended school with bruises, but no social worker or teacher intervened to save her.
In Canada, 19-year-old Zainab Shafia, her 17-year-old sister Sahar, 13-year-old sister Geeti, and Mohammed Shafia's first wife Rona Mohammed Omar, all drowned in 2009. Their bodies were found inside a family car submerged in a canal. The family viewed the sisters as too "western." They removed their veils at school and posed for photographs wearing "sexy" clothing. Their father, mother and brother were all convicted of their murders.
In a similar case in Arizona, Iraqi-American Noor Al-Maleki's family considered her too Western. And like the Said sisters, she refused to remain in an arranged marriage to a man in Iraq. In 2009, her father ran her over with a Jeep Cherokee. Her mother was his accomplice.
The Said sisters faced impossible odds. Their semi-literate, part-time taxi-driver father apparently had connections. People "harbored" him for 12 years and eight months. This is curious. Yaser is not a religious man. He does not live large. What kind of power does he have?
The local Dallas newspapers covered the case; Dallas AP sent the story out but it was not picked up nationally. The mainstream media was – and still is – reluctant to expose criminal behavior if the perpetrator is a Muslim. Only conservative blogs, The Washington Times, and FOX News featured it. FOX also aired a documentary, "Murder in the Family: Honor Killing in America," and Xoel Pamos and Neena Nejad produced an important independent film about the Said honor murders, "The Price of Honor."
According to FBI spokesman Jason Wandel, the hunt for Yaser Said was a coast-to-coast operation that also involved an international search. It was a serious manhunt which, according to the FBI's Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno and Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey, required "good, old-fashioned, aggressive police work and the reach of the federal government." They are now seeking information on anyone else who might have harbored Said or provided other assistance.
This case raises some important questions.
How can an underemployed taxi driver escape detection for so long? Who, beyond his son and brother, "harbored" him? His family, which was under surveillance? Other Egyptians? Was he helped by people who saw him as a Muslim being persecuted by infidel law enforcement?
Should family members, including mothers, be arrested and tried as accomplice-collaborators in an honor killing?
How should North American teachers, school nurses, and social service agencies respond when they see a Muslim girl coming to school bruised and with a black eye? What resources do we have to protect children in danger from their own families?
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of 20 books, including Women and Madness, and A Family Conspiracy: Honor Killings. She is a Senior IPT Fellow, and a Fellow at MEF and ISGAP.
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