At age 16, all Morsal Obeidi wanted was to live
the way other girls in Germany do. She paid dearly: Obeidi's brother
stabbed her 20 times. Her murder has sparked a renewed debate in
Germany about the failure of many immigrant families to integrate into
Morsal is buried one week after her death. In the morning, the women
wash the body, cleansing it of its earthly sins, in keeping with
The teenage girl's thin body is covered with stab wounds, evidence
of the knife that was plunged into her torso. The women wrap the body
in linen and lay it into a coffin made of a light-colored wood.
At noon, six men lift the coffin to their shoulders and begin
walking, leading a procession of 200 men and women dressed in black.
Ghulam-Mohammed Obeidi, the father -- who lost his daughter and now,
more than likely, his son in a single night -- is at the center of the
group. They walk along a path that leads to the new Muslim section at
the back of a cemetery in Hamburg's Öjendorf neighborhood, to where a
group of construction workers stand leaning against an excavating
machine. The women stop as the men carry the coffin to the grave, which
is lined with boards, a rectangular hole in the ground with pale sand
piled up around its edges.
This is where the story ends, with the body of a stabbed girl being
brought to her grave. Her name was Morsal Obeidi, and she was 16. Born
in Afghanistan, she died a few days ago, in a parking lot in Hamburg.
In the years between her birth and her death, Morsal Obeidi tried to
lead the kind of life she believed was correct, the kind of life other
girls in her school led. Perhaps she was trying to do precisely what
politicians and social workers are constantly encouraging immigrants to
do: to become integrated.
A Life in Two Worlds
But her parents and her family -- especially Ahmad, her oldest
brother -- were an obstacle to integration. In the end, Morsal Obeidi
was torn apart by the need to live a life in two worlds, and by the
daily struggle to be the kind of person she wanted to be.
Morsal met with Mohammed, her cousin, on the evening of May 15, a
Thursday. They were sitting in a McDonald's restaurant. Morsal had only
been back in the city for a few months, after a prolonged visit with
relatives in Afghanistan. It was spring in Hamburg. As they ate,
Mohammed thought about the plan that he was keeping a secret from
Morsal. It seemed harmless enough. Mohammed said later that Ahmad,
Morsal's brother, had asked him to bring his sister to the Berliner Tor
train station. "He said to me: 'I want you to meet Morsal today. Then
walk to the Berliner Tor with her. But don't tell her anything. I just
want to talk to her."
It seemed harmless enough.
Morsal and Mohammed arrived at the suburban railway station shortly
after 11 p.m. They walked around the corner to a small parking lot next
to an apartment building, where they sat down to smoke a cigarette. At
11:20 p.m., Ahmad suddenly appeared out of the darkness. Morsal
recognized him -- and froze. Ahmad approached his sister and then,
without saying a word, began stabbing her. He stabbed her a few times.
"I think he must've taken something first. Drugs. Or maybe he got
drunk. I tried to stop him, but he pushed me away," says Mohammed.
Ahmad Obeidi, 23, is a strong, athletic young man. Morsal tried to
run away, but she stumbled and fell. Ahmad stood over her and continued
to stab her, five times, ten times, still silent as he swung his right
arm up and down over his sister's body. He seemed intoxicated. The
police counted 20 stab wounds, inflicted with such force that Ahmad
would later wear a bandage on his right forearm.
Morsal screamed, waking up the residents of the apartment building.
Passersby called the police. Ahmad fled to a nearby subway station, and
Mohammed followed him. The two cousins boarded a train, where they sat
silently across from each other, a killer and his accomplice.
Mohammed spent a short time wandering through the night before going
to a police station, where he was interrogated for six hours. It was
Ahmad, he said, who had killed her.
At approximately noon on May 16, roughly 12 hours after the killing,
police officers stood at the door of Ahmad Obeidi's apartment. He
allowed them to take him into custody without resisting, and he
confessed to the crime. To the officers, it seemed that Ahmad, the
murderer of his own sister, had been waiting for them.
In the days following the crime, it was frequently referred to as an
"honor killing." A murder for the sake of honor? Is this even possible?
Doesn't a man who cold-bloodedly kills his own sister, a girl seven
years his junior, little more than a child, in fact lose all honor?
A Criminal for Whom Germany Was Foreign
The family was certainly not without its problems. But there was a
critical difference between Morsal, who wanted nothing more than to be
free, and Ahmad, who was a criminal to whom Germany had always been a
foreign place. He staggered through life, unstable, a failure in life.
He killed his sister for having become too comfortable in the ways of
the West. He resented her for her uncovered hair, her makeup and her
By reconstructing Morsal's life, we realize that there are various
ways to become integrated, to succeed in Germany, and that different
people adjust to German society at different rates. Morsal was always a
step ahead, while her brother Ahmad always lagged behind.
Morsal had a German passport, like her brother and the rest of the
family. Ghulam-Mohammed Obeidi was the first to come to Germany. He
arrived in 1992, when Helmut Kohl was still chancellor. The father was
barely 30 years old, a good-looking young man who had been trained as a
pilot in the Soviet Union. He had flown the legendary MiG-21 jet
fighter, an aircraft capable of traveling at twice the speed of sound.
Obeidi flew combat missions against the religious mujahedeen, and he
was a member of the Communist Party, which soon fell from power when
the Soviets withdrew and the mujahedeein took Kabul. Obeidi fled to
Hamburg, where there was already a sizeable Afghan community. It seemed
a good place for a new beginning, a place where he would not be alone.
An Afghan Enclave in Europe
Today, Hamburg is home to about 20,000 people of Afghan heritage,
more than any other European city. Close to 7,000 have German
passports. Before the murder of Morsal, Hamburg's Afghan community was
relatively loose-knit and was rarely perceived as an ethnic group,
partly because these immigrants had been so deeply divided at home that
there was little left to unite them as a community abroad.
When the communists came into power in 1978, the supporters of the
king were the first to leave Afghanistan. In 1989, the communists fled
the victorious mujahedeen. After the Taliban was ousted in 1996, many
of its supporters also went abroad. In other words, each group was
fleeing from the next group that would follow it into exile.
Once they had arrived in Germany, the groups found that they had
little in common. Old enemies were now neighbors, living together in
the same city. To make life together more tolerable, these disparate
immigrants focused on the one thing that could surmount all ideological
differences: the family.
The family became their safe haven, and it was to be defended at all
costs. The family, in this new, foreign world, could not be allowed to
This emphasis on the family created great pressure to conform, to obey
the rules -- and it sealed the fate of Morsal Obeidi. Her father
brought his family to Germany in 1994, when Ahmad was 10 and Morsal was
only three. He could no longer work as a pilot in his adopted homeland.
An Afghan elite soldier was not in high demand in Germany, and so he
learned to drive a bus. He never learned enough German to truly fit in.
Everyone here seemed to be overtaking him, even his own daughter.
Obeidi started a business selling used buses in Rothenburgsort, a
Hamburg neighborhood. Today there are three dilapidated buses and an
old Mazda on the lot at Obeidi Auto Export. Ahmad, the killer, ran his
father's business, a business with almost no inventory worth selling.
The family lived on another street in the same neighborhood in a new,
five-story building adjacent to the motorway. It was neither a very
good neighborhood nor a troubled ghetto.
Obeidi's family grew, and he soon had a wife and five children.
Though relatively unsuccessful in the world outside, at home he was
still in charge, still the man of the house. His family was the source
of his pride, and he could not abide the thought of anyone complaining
about them. He was determined that no one in the Afghan community
should be able to say that his children had brought shame on the
family. But this was far from his family's reality. Ahmad, the eldest
son, became a criminal. Morsal, the pretty daughter, became too German.
In his police file, Ahmad was soon listed as a violent criminal.
Morsal, hoping to escape the blows from her father and brother,
repeatedly sought the protection of a child and youth welfare agency.
In this new world, the proud men are the first to become losers.
They lose their way of life, because in their world their only claim to
authority is the fact that they are men and that, as men, they can
resort to their one advantage over women, brute strength. They cling to
old concepts like honor, because honor is something that even a loser
'You Are Bringing Shame to the Family'
Morsal attended the Ernst-Henning-Strasse Schule, an elementary and
junior high school in Hamburg's Bergedorf neighborhood with students
from 18 different countries. In the same neighborhood, near a
pedestrian zone, she would often get together with friends after
school. It was not a very attractive place to meet but, being in a
different neighborhood, it offered Morsal and her friends an
opportunity to get away from their families. There they could hang out,
smoke, listen to music and occasionally drink alcohol. Morsal liked
hip-hop music and Afghan pop. She was 16 and not unattractive to the
"She was outspoken and spirited," says Helmut Becker, the deputy
principal at her school, "and she was never shy about contradicting
people." Morsal took part in a project that involved students educating
other students. She was even awarded a certificate that identified her
as a "conflict mediator."
There are many files about Morsal Obeidi, filled with the sparse
comments of the many Hamburg agencies with which she came into contact
over the years: the youth welfare agency, the school authority, the
police. The files describe Morsal as a relatively poor student. In
January 2007, the principal of her school, Dorit Ehler, informed her
that she would not be able to complete the requirements to graduate
from the vocational-track high school she was attending. Ehler informed
the parents that she planned to keep Morsal back a grade, but that
perhaps something could be worked out. The parents, however, had made
up their minds long before, and they withdrew their daughter from the
Morsal, unlike her older sister, was obstinate. She was 14 when she
began to resist her parents' authority. She was tired of being
complacent, of living according to the old Afghan rules, which seemed
irrelevant to her life in Hamburg. She argued with her parents about
her appearance and her behavior, her uncovered hair, her makeup, her
tight jeans and about smoking and drinking. They argued about her
friends and acquaintances. For former fighter pilot Ghulam-Mohammed
Obeidi, the family's reputation was at stake. It was the only thing he
had left to lose.
A Father and Son Turned Violent
The police say that he became violent, and so did his son Ahmad.
They were losing control over Morsal, and losing their self-control in
the process. "You are bringing shame to the family," they said to her.
Morsal fled repeatedly.
At 14, she was already a regular visitor to welfare agencies,
especially the Children's and Youth Emergency Service (KNJD) on
Hamburg's Feuerbergstrasse -- a three-story, red brick building, and
not the sort of place people seek out unless they have no place else to
go. The children and adolescents who came to the KJND were put up in
single rooms, each with a bed, mirror and sink. The comments in
Morsal's record reveal a pattern. Two sentences that appear frequently
are: "Admitted to the KJND" and "Morsal checked out of the facility."
Morsal was most afraid of her brother Ahmad. While she began to feel
at home in Germany, he lost the ability to strike a balance between his
family's old and new worlds. He dropped out of school. His German was
poor. He began drinking, and by 13 his name had appeared in police
records for the first time. Since then, Ahmad has faced criminal
charges roughly 30 times -- for offences like assault, harassment and
On Jan. 20, 2007, for example, he got into his car, drunk. He
stopped at a light and attacked four men, beating one of them with a
club and stabbing another in the thigh with his knife. When the police
arrived at the scene, he faced them with a broken bottle in his hand.
A number of attacks on Morsal are also noted in his police file. But
most of the attacks were never reported -- or documented. According to
police records, Ahmad beat up his sister on Nov. 1, 2006. The older
sister, the report reads, scratched Morsal in the face as she was lying
on the ground. There were more blows on Nov. 8, 2006. This time Ahmad
threatened her with a knife, but without using it. He shouted at
Morsal, accusing her of violating the family honor. Morsal filed a
complaint against her brother, and she was returned to the KNJD. On
Jan. 19, 2007, Ahmad allegedly beat her up again, this time in the
office of the family's used car and bus dealership. His sister dressed
like a slut, Ahmad told the police.
Perhaps Ahmad already sensed that he was a failure, and that he had
messed up his life. But according to a relative, he loved Morsal. The
youth welfare agency's files refer to their relationship as "highly
ambivalent." Morsal was afraid of Ahmad, but he was also a refuge, and
sometimes she spent the night in his apartment. The two shared a common
fear of their father. Morsal confided in a member of the KJND staff,
telling her "she felt closest to her brother, even though she also had
many disagreements with him."
In early March 2007, the family sent Morsal to stay with relatives
in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. They wanted her to study the
Koran and familiarize herself with prayer, and to shed everything that
was German about her, the many bad influences and her supposedly
dishonorable life. The parents, who had told their daughter that the
trip was to be a vacation, soon returned to Germany. But Morsal was
kept behind for nine months -- to be reeducated.
In Afghanistan she lived with her cousin, Yussuf Obeidi, a stately
man in his mid-fifties. The family wanted her to experience the chemak, or female awakening.
Defending Family Property
The Obeidis are not a noticeably conservative family. Nevertheless,
it valued traditions, and one of them was to defend the family's
property: zar (gold), zamin (property) and zan (women). In their traditional world, it was set in stone that these things are the property of the man.
Morsal was allowed to return home to Hamburg in January of this
year. She later told the police that she had been taken to Afghanistan
to be married there, and that she was only able to return to Germany by
promising to obey the family.
These are the statements of a 16-year-old girl. The father, standing
at the door of the family apartment in the Rothenburgsort neighborhood
-- a pale, gaunt man -- has no comment.
A friend would later say that Morsal had a baby in Afghanistan. But
the police say that they have no knowledge of a birth. The situation
became more acute seven weeks before Morsal's death. The staff of the
youth welfare agency tried to remove Morsal from her parents'
apartment. On April 11, both Morsal and her parents agreed that she
would move to a facility in another city, Flensburg. According to the
youth welfare agency's files, "Hamburg was a dangerous place in every
respect" for Morsal.
On April 25, Morsal decided to leave the Flensburg home. According
to her record, she "wanted to live with her family again, but only if
the parents did as she wished." The youth welfare office discussed the
matter with the family. The father agreed to take in Morsal again, but
only if she "obeyed the family rules."
The father was hoping for a new Morsal, and Morsal was hoping for a new father. Both were disappointed.
Morsal began staying out all night. The police have learned that
when she returned to her parents on May 11, after being away for three
days, her father immediately began beating her. Morsal fled to her
room, where she tied together sheets and lowered herself from her
window. But when she reached the ground, her 13-year-old brother tried
to choke her and beat her, knocking out one of her teeth. Morsal
returned to the youth welfare agency, where the staff tried to convince
her to return to the home in Flensburg. An official at the youth
welfare agency wrote in her file: "She should not be given any other
opportunity than to return to the girls' facility." But Morsal was
against the idea and was released.
But she didn't go home this time, and the parents reported her as
missing. A friend told them that Morsal was staying in an apartment in
the city's Billstedt neighborhood.
The Obeidis went to the apartment, where another argument broke out.
The father, according to the youth welfare agency's file, beat the
daughter relentlessly, and the argument "ended in the police being
called to the scene."
Perhaps it was on that day that Ahmad, the brother, devised his
murderous plan. On the evening of May 15, he made his way to the
Berliner Tor train station. He should have been in prison at the time.
In October 2007, Ahmad had been sentenced to one year and five months
in prison without parole. He received a court order to begin serving
his sentence on May 2, 2008. But on May 9, his attorney petitioned the
court to postpone the sentence. The court denied the petition on May 15.
But by then it was too late for Morsal Obeidi.
It was the night she encountered Ahmad on the small parking lot
across the street from the train tracks -- a fatal night for two
siblings who no longer knew exactly where they belonged.
Traces of Morsal's blood remained behind on the concrete in front of
the building's garage. Three days later, all that remained were a few
dark spots, as black as motor oil.
JOCHEN-MARTIN GUTSCH, PER HINRICHS, SUSANNE KOELBL, GUNTHER LATSCH, SVEN RÖBEL, ANDREAS ULRICH
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.