Zeinab al-Hosni: A Syrian murder mystery - Page 2

Middle East

Zeinab al-Hosni: A Syrian murder mystery

The twists involving the disappearance of a Syrian girl highlight the country's dark reality.

Fatat recalls begging her son not to risk his life going out to protest. “Even if they gave me all of Syria for you I wouldn’t want it. Don’t go out,” she recalls telling Mohammed, tears welling in her eyes.

But staff at the military morgue had further grim news for Fatat, asking if she knew anything about a missing young woman. When she said she did, Fatat was led to the morgue where a ghostly white torso lay wrapped in a sheet. Other body parts were brought in a zippered bag.

The video activists made of the corpse is too graphic to publish. It shows a bone sticking through from a severed arm, barely recognizable, its hand having also been hacked off. The decapitated head, blackened and burned, its eyes and lips sealed shut. The stump of an arm and the gaping hole in her shoulder where a blade was wielded to cut the woman into pieces.

“Even though it was so burned I knew it was the body of my daughter. It’s a mother’s feeling that told me,” said Fatat, who washed the body herself, preparing it for burial.

Before she could leave, Fatat, who is illiterate, said she had to sign with a thumbprint a death certificate saying the corpse had been killed by “armed gangs,” which the regime says are behind the uprising. Fatat had already signed the same paper to receive Mohammed’s body and agreed not to hold a large funeral for either.

“They killed the rose Zeinab,” read one of the many placards held aloft by women in Homs protesting after the burial in a small cemetery in Bab as-Sebah on Sept. 17.

“Zeinab never joined the protests, but even so, the same thing happened to her as her brother,” Fatat said.

As the gruesome news of Zeinab’s apparent death in custody began to leak out late last month, the family prepared to flee Syria, terrified the publicity would mean another loved one killed.

Then on Oct. 4 the family saw the dramatic and disturbing sight of Zeinab speaking on a pre-recorded news package aired on Syria TV.

Asked if she still lived at home, Zeinab replied that she ran away without telling her parents and had gone to stay with relatives. “I ran away because my brother was beating me and torturing me,” she said, asking her mother to forgive her.

But the regime may have miscalculated if it thought the video gave it an advantage in its battle against the media and rights groups, which it says have inflated reports of the uprising.

“The reappearance of Zeinab should not detract from the fact that there is a decapitated body of a woman held in Syrian custody,” said Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch in Beirut. “More and more reports are coming out of Homs of deaths with complete impunity, which no one investigates. Syrian state TV is more interested in propaganda than getting to the bottom of things.”

Having grieved the loss of her two children, Fatat remains convinced that Zeinab died and that she and Mohammed “are martyrs, alive in heaven.”

Yousef is less reconciled to the horror that has befallen his family.

“They are saying Zeinab is still alive, so let them hand her to us alive. And if so, who is this person that we buried? Isn’t she a human being?

Who did that to her?” he said.

“Who gave her to us to make a media propaganda? Who has an interest in doing that? Is the soul of a person something you play with?”