The long, hard road from boy to killer

Moosa Mukhtiar Ahmed's brief, happy childhood contrasted vividly with that of the troubled child who grew into the man who would rape and murder him.

Rashid al Rashidi was living in this area of Al Qusais in Dubai - the same neighbourhood as his victim, Moosa Mukhtiar Ahmed.
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DUBAI // Moosa Mukhtiar Ahmed's brief, happy childhood, spent in the embrace of a large, loving family, contrasted vividly with that of the troubled child who grew into the man who was to rape and murder him. Rashid al Rashidi's first day on Earth began with the death of his mother, who died giving birth to him. According to a man who has known him for much of his life, it was a bad start from which he would never really recover. "I know him since he was a child," Mohammed Khalifa told The National. "He is ill and needs to be treated." Rashidi's Emirati father quickly married again, but life with his Indian step-mother was far from happy. She had, Rashidi's lawyer, Mohammed al Sa'adi, told the court on January 4, "abused him extensively, physically and mentally ... If anything was wrong he was assaulted and hit by her and his father".

At little more than seven years of age, Rashidi gave up on education and dropped out of school. Next came smoking, sniffing glue and drinking alcohol, accompanied by a spree of petty crime, laying the foundations of what his lawyer said was to become "a long criminal record". Mr Khalifa remembers a boy who was neglected and who turned increasingly to drugs and alcohol. "He never had anyone. His step-mother was not good to him. He was lonely living in a room all by himself. No one cared about him." It was the loneliness, believes Mr Khalifa. that drove Rashidi inexorably towards the edge. He had few friends and those he had were mostly drinking partners. Friendly and helpful to those he knew, he trusted few outside his small circle and constantly picked fights with strangers.

"When he was with me and my family, there is no problem at all," recalls Mr Khalifa, a former soldier who owns a Dubai-based fishing boat. "In fact, he was all right with people in this area he knew. But always got into fights with others." At 14, Rashidi's father died. For a while, it seemed that his descent might be arrested by the army, which he joined the same year, but by 17, according to Mr Khalifa, he had been dishonourably discharged for persistent misbehaviour. By now, said Mr al Sa'adi, "He hated his stepmother and hated everyone else because of her. He became introverted and distant from society ... He met bad company who taught him the path to drugs, nightlife and evil." After the army, Rashidi left for Bahrain, where he stayed for a while with his sister, his only relative, before returning to the UAE and landing a job in Ajman as a fisherman. He moved into an outside room at the family's home near the Creek in Dubai, where he would return for up to two weeks at a time inbetween voyages. He was earning good monety, says Mr Khalifa - as much as Dh2,400 a week - but most of his pay was spent on alcohol. As a fisherman, Mr al Sa'adi told the court, "He met bad company who taught him the path to drugs, nightlife and evil". Whenever Rashidi returned from the sea, recalls Mr Khalifa, who lives in a villa close to the condemned man's home, "My wife gave him food. But he was always lonely. He was very worried most of the time." Rashidi was jailed for three years in 2006 for a sexual assault on a young boy and the rape of a housemaid. Released last year, he was now even more isolated from society, a loner constantly under the influence of alcohol. "A few times when he drank with a group of friends, he got violent and accused everyone of stealing from him. He had no control," says Mr Khalifa. Neighbours in the area, home to a mix of Asian and Arab families, remember a "dangerous" man, known as an alcoholic, who avoided eye contact and rarely struck up conversations. Usually dressed in a khandoura, Rashidi was a lean man with curly hair and a beard, whose addiction to drink and drugs often made him look sleepy. Wajid Ali, an employee at a air-conditioning repair shop, said Rashidi used to come home "once in 10 to 15 days. He stayed for a couple of days and then returned to the sea." Most evenings he stayed out "until late in the night. He used to roam around all night". There was, recalled one Arab teenager, "always something wrong with him. Most people stayed away from him." Now, even those who had been part of his small group have distanced themselves from the association.

"We should have warned everyone about him," said a man whose grocery business was just down the street from where Rashidi lived. "We knew he was capable of being very dangerous." Rashidi had visited the store often, but rarely spoke: "In my ten years here, he must have spoken less than 10 times." Yet Mr Khalifa says he also saw the occasional glimmer of a brighter side to the man the world sees now as only a monster; he says his four children often went with Rashidi to the local store, to buy sweets and clothes, and there were never any problems, or cause for alarm. "I used to take him along with me wherever I went. I also advised him a lot. I told him not to get into trouble. But after drinking he lost control of himself." By now, however, it was clear that all hope of a normal life had slipped from Rashidi's tenuous grasp. With no family, and known to few people as anything other than a drunk and a criminal who had served time for sexual assaults, Rashidi stood no chance of marriage or starting a family of his own.

The stage was set for the final, terrible act of Rashidi's life. On the morning of November 27 last year, the first day of Eid al Adha, Mukhtiar Ahmed Khudabaksh saw his son alive for the last time, in the villa in the quiet neighbourhood of Al Qusais 3 in which the large Pakistani family had lived for several decades. "Around 10.50am, my son was sitting right beside me," he recalled, with tears in his eyes. "He was very happy because it was Eid and was eating cheese crackers." Moosa then ran outside, to play in the street. Barely an hour later, close to noon, police vehicles appeared and officers began cordoning off the mosque just metres from the family's home. Word spread that the body of a child had been found in a toilet in the building and Hamid Ali, Moosa's uncle, saw a small body, the face covered, being carried out. "I did not imagine that it would be our child," he said. Nevertheless, "I panicked and called the family to check if the children in our home were safe". All were, bar one. "Moosa was missing and my heart sank," recalled Mr Khudabaksh. He grasped at the possibility that his son might be at a neighbour's house, which he often visited, but then all hope ended. The police called the family to Rashid Hospital to identify a body. It was Moosa. Even now, the family had no idea that the boy had died such an horrific death. At first, they assumed it had been a tragic accident - that he had slipped in the toilet, struck his head and died of the injury. The police told them the truth.

Mr Khalifa and his family had spent most of the day outside, celebrating the festival. It was only when he got home that he learnt that a child had been killed in the mosque. Later, not suspecting his friend might be involved, he went to Rashidi's home to wish him Eid greetings. "He was not there. I assumed he was out or returned to work." Next day, he found out that the police arrested him on charges of raping and killing Moosa. "I could not believe it," he said. "I still do not believe he has done this." Two days later, however, police announced that Rashidi had confessed to the crimes, having lured Moosa to the mosque with promises of Eid gifts. Maj Gen Khamis al Maziena, the deputy commander-general of Dubai Police, also revealed that the suspect had been convicted of sexually assaulting men at least once before; in fact, Rashidi had only recently been released after serving a three-year sentence for a two sexual assaults committed in 2006. Rashidi was formally charged with murder on December 23. Such was the widespread revulsion provoked by the crime committed by a man who, in the words of the chief prosecutor, had "premeditatedly raped and killed an innocent angel in the house of God", that at his first court appearance that same day his appointed defence lawyer declined to represent him.

Hamed al Khazraji gave his reasons in a letter to the judge: "After reviewing the case files and inspecting his detailed confession, and looking at the gruesome nature of the crime and the fact that it was done in a mosque with a four-year-old child, we have reached the decision to bow out ... and we view that this defendant is an embarrassment to humanity." His replacement, Mohammed al Sa'adi, took the case only after a court appeal for a volunteer, and only on the condition that his client plead guilty. During the case, more details emerged of Rashidi's final, fatal night of alcohol abuse. "The defendant consumed liquor on the eve of Eid with his friends," said Yousef Foulaz, the chief prosecutor. He had then "left the party and went into a graveyard to consume more liquor into the early hours of the morning and then tricked the child into following him to the house of God and raped the young boy."

On December 30, the investigating officers told the court that although Rashidi had confessed to the crime, he said he had not meant to kill the child. "He told us initially that he covered his face and mouth and the boy passed out," a police lieutenant said. But then Rashidi said the child had started screaming "and he wanted to quiet him". Exactly how the paths of the boy and his killer crossed is unclear. The tiny black gate barring the way to Rashidi's small, unkempt room, in a villa just a few streets away from where Moosa's family live, has remained locked since the day of the killing. The room is right behind a mosque, and it remains unclear why on the day of the murder Rashidi chose to visit another mosque, further away. Evoking Rashidi's "harsh childhood", on January 3 his lawyer had asked for a psychiatric assessment. "Before we judge him we have to take into account his mental health," said Mr al Sa'adi. "How can any person commit such an inhuman crime with a sane mind?" Six days later, however, three psychiatrists had concluded that Rashidi was sane and likely to commit similar crimes in future, "especially against children". Cross-questioning one of the psychiatrists, Dr Mohammed Hassan, on January 13, Mr al Sa'adi highlighted the abuse the defendant had allegedly endured as a child, and asked whether he was the product of a cycle of violence. Such theories, replied Dr Hassan, were outdated: "New psychiatric studies have refuted this theory. Abuse is taken into account, but it does not necessarily dictate future behavioural trends."