In his modest house in the Chiyah area, Beirut, a heartbroken Atef al-Husseini
(63 years old), a retired chief warrant officer in the Internal Security Forces, sat alone alongside two playful cats. His house was mostly empty, and there was no funeral event; In fact there was nothing but signs of despair and grief. It’s the house of Zainab’s family, the teenager who was kidnapped, handcuffed, and burnt alive in a crime that devastated Lebanon.
Since the incident, he was keen on showing the photos of his young daughter, how she used to look, before she was turned into a charred corpse.
“My daughter is beautiful and mature, look at how she looked, and what they did to her,” He tells Daraj. He insisted that we see the photos of his young daughter, even the graphic ones, of her burnt body. He looked at them in disbelief, shocked by what the flames did to his daughter, burning her until all her features disappeared. He is haunted by one thought: whether she died before she was burnt, or whether she was tormented with the flames while still alive!
The father asked the media to publish Zainab’s photos (which we refused to publish): “I want the whole world to see what happened to my daughter. You talk about the Holocaust and the Armenians, don’t you? Well, what happened to my daughter is no less gruesome. My daughter was burnt to death and I would not rule out the possibility that they sexually assaulted her too, before she was killed.”
The father was dealing with an immeasurable amount of pain, also because his daughter was kidnapped to an apartment in a crowded area, and when she was burned, there were no quick rescue responses on part of anyone.
“When people protest on the street, the state surrounds them with all its apparatus. My daughter was burning for an hour, in front of the whole world and no one moved a muscle… They heard her scream at 2 o’clock in the morning, and they did nothing. Who were they afraid of? Why didn’t anyone save her? ” He asked, with tears in his eyes.Atef al-Husseini lives for the hope that justice will be served in her memory. He is scared that her case will also be taken lightly, like those of the many victims in Lebanon. “I worked in the military service for 25 years and I know what happens in these cases. The biggest cases get suspended and are closed with the exoneration of the guilty party. Those who killed my daughter are politically supported. I don’t belong to any political party and I don’t have enough money to hire a lawyer to help me get my daughter justice from those who killed her,” he explained.
Burnt to Death
The body of Zainab al-Husseini (14 years old) was found burned inside an abandoned apartment in Bourj el-Barajneh, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, belonging to a person with the initials M.S.
The initial investigations indicated that A.S (21 years old) lured Zainab in, tied her down, and set her alight inside his uncle’s apartment, who was also arrested with his son after their escape when A.S was arrested.
According to the results of the initial investigations published by the Office of the Intelligence Directorate, the three men returned home drunk, and one of them beat the victim and caused her to bleed. After a night of violent clashes, A.S returned at night with two liters of gasoline which he poured over Zainab while she was sleeping, and then set her alight. The victim was burnt to death and the perpetrator left after committing his heinous crime. He then returned with the firefighters, whose station is located near the apartment, to put out the fire… Then he disappeared once more.
“We all know that the judiciary is politicized, and the judgment may be tampered with, if the criminals have a political partisan cover, so we must turn it into a public opinion case, and force the media to seek justice.”
In the forensic report “Daraj” obtained from the victim’s father, Dr. Naama al-Mallah, who examined the child’s body, revealed the existence of third-degree burns, with her whole body charred, her skin totally melted due to the intensity of the fire, and her facial features unrecognizable. The doctor indicated that there were no signs of violence on her body, but it would have been difficult to recognize bruises or any physical assault signs anyway, as a result of her damaged skin. The death occurred at 3 A.M as a result of cardiac arrest due to the severe burns.
According to Zainab’s father, the forensic evidence team entered the crime scene and found his daughter as a charred corpse near the window, and in front of the body was the door which was broken by the fire brigade to force their entry. The broken door indicated that it was firmly closed, “Some people try to mitigate the perpetrator’s crime by claiming that he did not know she was there, but it is evident that he knew that my daughter was in his uncle’s house, which proves that the latter was involved in the crime too, who is generally rumored to be a drug dealer. Others say, as in the army’s statement, that he was drunk, in an endeavor to mitigate the gravity of the crime and justify his crime somehow.”
The Last Phone Call with Zainab
Atef al-Husseini said that his daughter, Zainab, called him from her mother’s aunt house 12 days before the crime took place, to tell him that she had a traffic accident and that her foot and hand were injured. In response to that he quickly sent her brother Hood (17 years old) with her health card to the aunt’s house. He also called her mother and asked her to go to Zainab, but Zainab disappeared after the phone call; Her aunt did not notice her absence, because she had been “busy hosting our guests.” This was the last time Atef heard from his daughter; “We filed a police report about our missing child, but we were looking for her on our own as well.”
Admittedly, this was not the first time the teenage girl disappeared from her father’s house. The father confirmed that she was also lost around two months ago, but they found her on the same day of her disappearance at her friend’s house in Chiyah. He described her frequent disappearance as “Adolescence, the psychological change that any girl of her age undergoes.”
Zainab was in the eighth grade in Ali Khalil High School in Chiyah, and her father expressed that, “She was extremely honest, if she loved someone, she would have told me,” trying to respond to the rumors about a love affair through which she was lured to her inevitable fate.
Absence of Security and Safety for Women in a Devastated Country
Owing to the financial, security, and political collapse that have hit state institutions, including the security apparatus, especially after the port explosion, there is a general lack of confidence in the Lebanese security and judiciary services, and doubts and concerns about justice and the rule of law in the country.
These concerns are exacerbated when the victims are women. It was striking that the army’s initial statement about the crime almost convicted Zainab by stating the sentence that she had “caused a dispute” between those who are accused of killing her, keeping in mind that Zainab is a minor and underage, and that those who are accused of killing her are all adults.
Later, the army changed its tone in a subsequent statement.
Manar Zuaiter, the human rights activist, considered that the crime of burning the child Zainab alive may not be a priority for the authorities, that has proven several times to be unconcerned with the citizens’ day-to-day living and suffering. “Had such a crime occurred in another country, it would stir up the public, and it would engage the state with its all apparatus.”
According to Zuaiter, the crime of killing Zainab is of special nature, taking into account the place where it happened, and the political and social context of it. “We all know that the judiciary is politicized, and the judgment may be tampered with, if the criminals have a political partisan cover, so we must turn it into a public opinion case, and force the media to seek justice.”
Unfortunately, there are no clear figures for the number of crimes against women. “The literature does not account for the numbers and proportions game, if ten or a hundred women are killed, the ratio doesn’t matter, but rather it is sowing the seeds of a culture that rejects gender-based violence, and the danger lies in the ability of individuals to expose these groups to violence. Not to mention social and legal lack of severity with these issues,” Zuaiter continues.
Women’s issues should not be separated from the country’s political and social context. Zuaiter concluded her speech by stating that the more we head towards being a country with institutions and agencies that are reluctant to perform their duties, and a judiciary that cannot be considered a resort to solve their issues, challenges will accumulate, and the possibility of women being exposed to danger will increase.
“I will not forgive, nor will I reconcile … I will raise my voice so my daughter’s right will not be lost,” lamented the grieving father.