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Religious speculation upsets imam in case of beheaded woman

Nazim Mangera felt tears welling in his eyes as he said the final prayers over the body of Aasiya Z. Hassan around sunrise Tuesday morning.

Mangera wasn't upset just by the loss of this vivacious, intelligent 37-year-old woman or by the vicious way that she was killed when she was beheaded Thursday.

He also was upset about suggestions that the Islamic religion may have had something to do with her death, that this may have been an "honor killing" tied to Muslim tradition or culture. Orchard Park police have charged her estranged husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, with her killing.

"We're all shocked. We're all grieving," said Mangera, imam of the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier. "To compound that, we have to face the difficulty of the religion of Islam being blamed for [the killer's] personal actions. It was an individual person who did this act, for whatever reason. We don't find any justification in the Islamic religion for any such violence."

Mangera was upset about suggestions that Muslim attitudes, especially toward women, have been blamed for the Hassan killing.

And he disputed the notion made by others that any connection between Islam and "honor killing" comes from an extreme right-wing Islamic faction that uses the Quran for its own purposes.

"The main concern of the Muslim community is that whenever a Muslim does something wrong, Islam goes on trial," Mangera added.

But what about the fact that Aasiya Hassan was beheaded, an act considered part of some Eastern cultures and traditions?

"Beheading has more to do with culture and country of origin [than religion]," Mangera stated. "It has nothing to do with Islam. We abhor domestic violence, and we categorically denounce it in all forms."

Authorities are investigating the possibility that the beheading could have been an honor killing.

"The people that I've talked to have said killing your wife or beheading anyone is not condoned in the Islamic faith," Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said Tuesday. "I haven't found anyone to say it's all right to do that under any circumstances. But it's something we have to investigate."

Meanwhile, Aasiya Hassan's sister, Asma Firfirey, who lives in South Africa, told a local newspaper there that she believes she was on the telephone with her sister when she was killed.

Firfirey, 42, told Die Burger in Cape Town that she and her husband were on the phone with Aasiya Hassan on Thursday when they allegedly heard her tell her husband to calm down and they could talk the following day about the divorce, according to the report.

Then, the Firfireys allegedly heard Aasiya Hassan make sounds that suggested she was struggling to breathe. They found out the next day she had been killed.

"I can only imagine how scared and emotional she must have been before she died," Asma Firfirey told the newspaper.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III agreed that authorities are investigating the possibility of an honor killing, because he said that would be a relevant issue in determining the killer's motive.

"Whether it's an honor killing does not change the fact that this is a case of extreme violence," Sedita said.

Muzzammil Hassan has been charged with second-degree murder, leading to many Internet and e-mail complaints about his not being charged with first-degree murder.

"It's obviously difficult to envision a more vicious crime than this," Sedita said. "But the sheer brutality of the crime, under New York State law, does not elevate murder second to murder first."

First-degree murder, punishable by a sentence of up to life imprisonment without parole, may be charged only in an intentional killing accompanied by one of 13 special circumstances, according to the law.

Those special circumstances include the killings of a judge, police officer, corrections officer, witness, or a contract killing, terrorist act, serial killing or torture killing.

Sedita pointed out that New York State law does not recognize a beheading -- no matter how vicious that is -- as one of those 13 specific circumstances.

How about this being a torture killing?

"We would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant took great enjoyment in killing his victim," Sedita said.

Sedita cited one fairly recent case, the January 2001 killing of an 18-year-old on North Pearl Street, that could be considered a torture killing. In that case, authorities had evidence that at least one of the suspects took great relish in the killing.

"Certainly, we will investigate to see if there are sufficient acts to prove that," the district attorney said of this case.


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