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02.28.09

Night Of The Beheading

In a Daily Beast exclusive, Asra Q. Nomani uncovers horrific new details about the evening Muzzammil Hassan allegedly murdered his wife while their young children waited in a nearby car.

In a Daily Beast exclusive, Asra Q. Nomani uncovers horrific new details about the evening Muzzammil Hassan allegedly murdered his wife while their young children waited in a nearby car. Plus, new details about the history of their abusive marriage—including a police report from a family trip.

On the night of Feb. 12, 2009, Aasiya Hassan was allegedly murdered and beheaded by her estranged husband, Muzzammil Hassan, inside the building of the American-Muslim TV venture, Bridges Network Inc., they operated together.

While the alleged murder took place, the couple’s two children—four-year-old Rania and six-year-old Danyal—were waiting for their mother in a car outside the building, along with Muzzamil Hassan’s 17-year-old son from an earlier marriage, according to people familiar with the details of the case.

It isn’t clear where the children were when police discovered their mother’s body, but the account is a reminder that domestic violence often has devastating consequences for children when it goes untreated. Police records—including this report from Flower Mound, Texas—show that the Hassan family had been struggling with Muzzammil Hassan’s abuse long before the alleged murder took place.

According to the police report, Muzzammil Hassan “coerced her into a bedroom.” In the bedroom, she said, he “pushed her down onto the bed, sat on her chest and pinned her arms and legs down."

Muzzammil Hassan, a prominent member of Buffalo’s Muslim community, had for years battled a psychiatric illness that led to violent rages when he went off his medication, according to people familiar with his medical history. His two previous marriages were also marred by abuse allegations, according to people familiar with the relationships.

On the night of Assiya Hassan’s alleged murder, Muzzammil Hassan lured his wife to the TV station on a pretense, possibly to sign papers, according to the people familiar with the case. Aasiya Hassan had filed for divorce on Feb. 6, 2009, securing a protective order against her husband, and, according to the people familiar with the situation, she couldn’t be in the building if he was there. He told her that she should look for his vehicle in the parking lot and proceed inside if she didn’t see it, according to the account.

The people familiar with the case said, Aasiya Hassan drove with Muzzammil Hassan’s teenage son, Michael, from his first marriage, and the two young children she had had during her marriage to Muzzammil Hassan. According to community members, Michael and his older sister, Sonia, 18, were very close to their step mother, Aasiya Hassan.

At the studio, the people said, Aasiya went inside. Some time later, Muzzammil emerged from the building, to Michael’s surprise. He walked over to Michael and the young children and handed Michael $4,900 in cash, saying, “You will probably need it.” A person familiar with the case said the police took the money as evidence.

According to the account, Michael, a high school senior, tried to open the locked windowless, steel entrance door to the building, and tried to call his older sister, Sonia, a freshman at the University at Buffalo.

According to police records, Muzzammil Hassan went to the Orchard Park police station at 6:15 p.m. to tell police officers they could find the murdered body of his wife at the Bridges studio. His lawyer in Buffalo, Jim Harrington, has said he didn’t confess to the crime, and he declined to comment on details of the case. The police station is just a few minutes drive from the studio. Ted Gura, assistant police chief in Orchard Park, declined to comment. Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita declined to comment.

Unable to reach his sister, Michael started to call others, the people familiar with the situation said, but by then Orchard Park police arrived on the scene and discovered the grisly scene inside. It’s not clear how Muzzammil Hassan would have been able to remove evidence of the crime, if he committed it, but a former Bridges employee said that the men’s room has a shower inside.

According to people involved with the proceedings, the case is expected to go to the grand jury in Erie County, New York, courts next week.

As more details emerge about the family’s secretive private life, it’s clear that the family had long been grappling with Muzzammil Hassan’s alleged abuse. On New Year’s Day 2007, for example, Muzzammil allegedly left Aasiya Hassan’s car in the parking lot of a car dealership outside town to keep her from leaving their home. According to New York State police spokeswoman Rebecca Gibbons, the state police was dispatched to the Lia Honda dealership parking lot in Clarence, N.Y., not far from Orchard Park, for “a report of an abandoned vehicle,” a 1999 Plymouth Voyager. The trooper contacted the residence, she said. The report said that the “vehicle was left there overnight following a domestic.” The incident was between Muzzammil Hassan and his wife, people familiar with the situation said. The spokeswoman said the car was left there “in an attempt to keep her from leaving.”

Almost two years before the alleged murder, on March 26, 2007, a family court judge in Erie County, N.Y., ordered Muzzammil Hassan to complete “co-parenting” and “anger management” classes at, interestingly, Catholic Charities, a social service agency with offices in Buffalo and the surrounding area. The American-Muslim community doesn’t offer any similar services in the area. A spokeswoman from Catholic Charities wasn’t available for comment.

In the Flower Mound, Tex., case, Aasiya Hassan went to the local police station during a visit to her in-laws in the summer of 2007, seeking to have Texas police enforce the New York protective order. The report said that on Monday, July 2, 2007, at 8:37 p.m., Aasiya Hassaan arrived at the station with her brother-in-law. He wasn’t named in the report.

In the lobby of the police station, officer Ronnie Medeiros reported that she told him that “she had a protective order placed on Muzzammil due to his violent behavior in the past.”

The order didn’t prohibit Muzzammil Hassan from living with his wife, but did order that he “restrain from assault, stalking, harassment, aggravated harassment, menacing, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, intimidation, threats or any criminal offense” against Aasiya Hassan, the couples’ two younger children—Danyal and Rania—or Muzzammil’s two older children from his first marriage—Sonia and Michael.

The protective order also stated that Muzzammil Hassan is “to refrain from corporal punishment” towards all four children.

In the Texas report, the officer said that Aasiya Hassan had told him that on the Friday before, which would have been June 29, 2007, the couple had argued over a GPS navigation system. “Aasiya stated that Muzzammil was going fishing with his family and she wanted to use the GPS tracker to go site seeing. When Muzzammil told her no, she made the comment that she should have known better than to even ask,” the officer wrote in the report. He said Aasiya Hassan said her comment “upset” her husband and “he grabbed her arm and told her to apologize.” The officer said that Aasiya Hassan showed him bruising on her upper left arm, and the officer told her that “in Texas anytime an assault from family violence is reported to us we are required to file a report.”

What happened next reveals just how delicate a situation it can be trying to break the cycle of violence. The officer wrote, “Aasiya then asked if she could speak to her brother-in-law.” While she was talking, the officer wrote, he started taking notes on the protective order, noting that when Aasiya Hassan noticed “she questioned me.” The officer explained, he said, that he was just taking notes for his report. “Aasiya got very offended and stopped cooperating with my interview,” he wrote.

“She fled the police station,” said officer Wess Griffin, a spokesman for the Flower Mound police, with the officer following her into the parking lot, calling after her, “Wait,” trying to persuade her to return to the station.

Four days later, on July 6, 2007, Aasiya Hassan returned to the Flower Mound police station. She filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband, and an officer took six photos of bruises to her left arm and leg. For “Dates of Incidents,” Aasiya Hassan reported “August 06, December 06, March 07, June 07.” The length of the relationship at the time: six years, nine months. She described her husband as 6’2,” 295 pounds. In an indication that Aasiya Hassan may have been trying to protect her husband’s reputation as an American-Muslim entrepreneur, the report said, she “refused” to divulge his employer information.

According to the report, she said that on June 30, 2007, Muzzammil Hassan “coerced her into a bedroom.” The police spokesman in Flower Mound said the officer believed this was the same incident she had come to report earlier, though there is a discrepancy with her dates. In the bedroom, she said, he “pushed her down onto the bed, sat on her chest and pinned her arms and legs down.” “This was done to ‘make’ her listen to him,” the report said. The officer noted that, in addition to the most recent protective order, Aasiya Hassan had had three other protective orders.

In an attempt to pursue the case, a Flower Mound police detective tried to contact Aasiya and Muzzammil Hassan six times over the month. On July 23, 2007, the report said, the detective visited the local address Aasiya Hassan had listed in her report, speaking to the home owner, Mahmood Khawaja Hassan, “who advised Ms. Hassan is married to his son and they have already gone back to their home in New York.”

Unable to reach the couple, the Flower Mound detective suspended the case on July 31, 2007.

Back in Orchard Park, New York, Muzzammil Hassan sits in a holding cell. In Buffalo last week, a brother of Muzzammil Hassan draped an arm over teenager Michael in comfort, during the funeral ceremony for Aasiya Hassan. And, in a temporary new home, Aasiya Hassan’s family has taken his children under their care, said community members. A particular salvation for Aasiya Hassan’s distraught mother, they said: the rambunctious, bubbly ways of her young four-year-old granddaughter, Rania, who, a community member said, “doesn’t seem to completely realize what happened.”

Asra Q. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She can be reached at asra@asranomani.com.