Editor's note: The writer obtained unreleased police records for this story. The narrative is also based on interviews, court documents, and internet comments.
Noor Almaleki typed a text message to a friend.
"Dude," she wrote at 1:06 p.m. last October 20, "my dad is here at the welfare office."
Noor, 20, hadn't seen her father, Faleh, since moving out of the family home months earlier. But his presence both startled and alarmed her. She knew he wouldn't rest until he'd regained complete control of her life.
Noor was the firstborn of Faleh and Seham Almaleki's seven children. Her first name means "light of God." The Almalekis had moved to the United States from Iraq when Noor was 4. Noor was thoroughly assimilated into American culture but kept in touch with her Iraqi roots (she was fluent in Arabic) and considered herself a Muslim, the same religion as her parents.
But she had moved away from her parents' home in Glendale, Arizona, in early 2009 after another blowup over how she was living her life — tight jeans, makeup, boyfriends, modeling photos, and an attitude that screamed independence and self-determination.
The clashes had escalated in 2008 after Noor, then 18, left her marriage to an older cousin in Iraq — her father had "arranged" it — and returned to the Phoenix area.
Noor sent her text message from inside a Department of Economic Security office in Peoria, Arizona. Seated next to her was Amal Edan Khalaf, her boyfriend's 43-year-old mother. Amal was there to complete a change-of-address form for welfare benefits. She too is Iraqi by birth but moved to the States only about a decade ago, and her proficiency in English was such that Noor came along to help translate. Noor had lived at Amal's residence since leaving her parents' home after the latest fracas.
It was bad enough that she was living with Amal, whom Faleh and Seham had known for years. They considered Amal, who was separated from her husband at the time, unfit as a mother and wife. But Noor's boyfriend and Amal's son, 19-year-old Marwan Alebadi, also lived there, and the Almalekis were enraged and shamed by the situation.
From their perspective, a man's daughters are his property, and they are supposed to live with him until he decides otherwise. Females who stray from the fold — or are perceived to have strayed — are considered guilty of dishonoring their clans. To some Iraqis, there's nothing worse.
Riffat Hassan, a retired University of Louisville professor and expert on the Koran, tells New Times, "Muslim culture has reduced many, if not most, women to the position of puppets on a string, to slave-like creatures whose only purpose in life is to cater to the needs and pleasures of men."
The Almalekis were proud members of that "Muslim culture." By moving in with Marwan and Amal, Noor Almaleki had made it clear that she would not be her father's puppet, his "slave-like" creature. She was determined to live how, and with whom, she wished.
Some cultures, including the Almalekis', endorse ancient methods of "cleansing" a family's supposedly tarnished name — with the blood of its daughters, sisters, and wives. In India, Hindu and Sikh brides are sometimes slain because their dowries are considered inadequate, the U.N. Children's Fund reports. In Islamic Middle Eastern countries, there's a name for the homicides of women by male family members: "honor killings." These murders of loved ones are as personal as it gets, usually committed with knives, machetes, or bare hands. Victims have been tied up and buried alive. The father and grandfather of a 16-year-old Islamic girl in Turkey did just that a few months ago after someone reported seeing her talking with boys. No one can say exactly how many honor killings occur, but anecdotal evidence from news accounts and government data suggests that hundreds of Muslim women and girls die this way every year. According to a 2006 statement by a U.N. news agency, 47 women died in honor killings in 2006 in Basra, a seaport city of about 4 million people that is Faleh Almaleki's hometown.
Such killings by Muslim immigrant men are reported in Western nations as well: Five were accused of murdering female kin in the United States from the start of 2008 until October 20, 2009.
That was the day Faleh Almaleki, an unemployed 48-year-old trucker with no criminal record, took a terrible step toward adding himself to that list of accused "honor" murderers.
Noor sent a second text message after her father stepped into the DES office, this one to her best friend, Ushna.
"Dude, I'm so scared. Shit," she wrote. "At the welfare place, and guess who walks in? My dad!!! I'm so shaky!"
"Holy shit, did he see you?" Ushna quickly responded.
"I don't think so," Noor typed. "His fat ass is right by the door so I can't even leave. I'm laughing like a crazy person. I hate when this happens to me. I knew I shouldn't have [woken] up."
"Oh, dear, that's awkward," Ushna said. "What's up with your parents, anyway?"
"My dad is a manipulative asshole," Noor replied. "I've honestly never met anyone... so evil."
Amal Khalaf watched as Faleh took a number at the counter and then sat near her and Noor. Faleh was on his own cell phone around the time that his daughter was texting. He spent five minutes speaking with his oldest son, Ali, 18 months younger than Noor. Faleh also spoke with a male relative in Detroit and several times with Seham, who was working as a translator at a U.S. military base in California.
Minutes after he arrived, Faleh left.
Amal's number finally got called, and she and Noor stepped up to a counter. Afterward, Amal headed outside to scope out the parking lot for any sign of Faleh.
They had reason to fear Faleh. After Noor had rebelled against her parents and left her arranged marriage, her father had become increasingly angry with her, especially over photos he found on the internet of her with men. After Noor moved out in the summer of 2008, Faleh asked Glendale police to charge his daughter with felony auto theft after she took his car. Then in March 2009, Seham Almaleki won an order of protection against Noor in Glendale City Court. In her petition, Seham claimed Noor had come home and hit her on one occasion.
By this time, Noor had moved in with Marwan and his mother. To the Almalekis, that was akin to a declaration of war. On July 20, Faleh and Seham broke into Amal's home late at night to try to corral their daughter. Glendale police reports claim Noor and Marwan weren't home at the time. But Seham banged on Amal's locked bedroom door and challenged her to come out and fight. Amal apparently hid until police arrived in response to a 911 call made by one of Amal's young daughters. Amal declined to pursue criminal charges against the Almalekis.
In the parking lot of the DES office, Amal saw no signs of Faleh, so they headed for Amal's van. But Amal discovered that she had locked her keys inside the vehicle.
She and Noor retreated to the DES office to regroup. Amal called her son and asked him to bring by a spare key from home, about 20 minutes away. It was a sunny, 85-degree day, and Amal wanted to wait just outside the front door of the DES office. But Noor was thirsty. She suggested they go to a Mexican restaurant that shared a parking lot with the DES office.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Amal saw a vehicle coming right at them. She lifted her hands in defense, as if to stop the inevitable. In that moment, she could see Faleh Almaleki behind the wheel. The Jeep smashed into the women. It dragged Noor across a curbed median and left her splayed on the pavement, unconscious and bleeding. Noor was barely alive, having suffered massive brain and spinal injuries as well as innumerable broken bones. The impact hurled Amal Khalaf about 27 feet. She suffered a broken pelvis, broken femur, and myriad cuts and bruises, but she remained conscious. Police later estimated that the SUV was moving as fast as 30 miles per hour.
Faleh sped out of the parking lot and turned west on Peoria Avenue.
Within minutes of Faleh's fleeing the bloody scene, he spoke by cell phone to his wife, to son Ali, and to at least two other members of his extended family. Cell tower records show that he called his cousin, Jamil Almaleki, less than an hour after the assaults, about half a mile from Jamil's home.
Amal quickly provided police with a motive. She said the Almalekis were furious with both her and Noor for the current living arrangement. Amal explained that Faleh had been hell-bent to show her and his daughter who was boss, who was in control.
Three Peoria police detectives went to the Almaleki home at 5 p.m. on October 20, about three hours after the assaults. Noor's brother, Ali, opened the front door. He was in a tough spot. Ali once had been close to his sister. His written praise accompanies a photo of the siblings in Noor's senior yearbook at Glendale Dysart High School:
"I admire that my sister is always there for me. I'm always able to talk to her no matter what. She'll always be there for me to listen to and give me a shoulder to lean on."
But the feud between Noor and their parents had taken its toll, and the siblings hadn't spoken in weeks. (Ali later told friends in an email that he had taken to calling his sister vile names before they stopped speaking.)
Ali told detectives Juan Lopez and Chris Boughey that he hadn't been in touch with his father since midmorning, when they had gone to a Best Buy electronics store together. He said that things at the house had been increasingly strained since Noor had returned from Iraq after leaving her arranged marriage. Ali said Noor had been "most disrespectful" to their parents (to him too) since her return and had continued to reject "traditional" Iraqi values.
The young man mentioned his own problems with his father, whom he described as a chronic gambler who liked to frequent casinos.
Ali's mother, Seham, had been calling him over the past few hours, he said, saying that something had happened to Noor. But Ali swore to detectives that he didn't know what had happened to his sister.
Detective Boughey returned to his car after the interview but didn't immediately leave. Ali came out a few minutes later and told the cop he wanted to add some details to his account. Ali now said he had spoken with his father about half an hour after the assaults, but he somehow couldn't recall the conversation. Ali wanted to know where Noor was hospitalized. The detective said he couldn't tell him that right away.
Faleh Almaleki crossed the Mexican border about the same time that Ali was being questioned. Faleh soon parked his Jeep in a mall parking lot and checked into a hotel. At 5:30, he made a call to his cousin, Jamil.
The next day, October 21, Peoria police issued a warrant for Faleh Almaleki's arrest, alleging two counts of aggravated assault. That day, a detective contacted Noor's mother by phone. Seham Almaleki said she was driving back from her job in California. She claimed all she knew was that there was a family problem of an unspecified nature. Detective Bill Laing then told Seham that her husband had intentionally slammed into Noor and Amal with his Jeep and fled.
"This woman is a liar," Seham told Lang, referring to Amal Khalaf. "This woman is dirty. Her family is dirty."
She said repeatedly that she hadn't communicated with her husband about the incident. Laing told Seham that Noor's condition was grave. She replied that she wanted to see her daughter as soon as possible. But the detective said he was concerned that Seham and others might pose further danger to Noor.
"I'm a danger?" Seham shouted. Ironically, given the circumstances, she continued, "I'm a Muslim. We can't kill our daughter."
On October 22, two days after the assaults, a Glendale pharmacist told police that someone had phoned in a prescription for Faleh Almaleki.
That evening, members of Noor's family (including her mother) and many of her friends held a candlelight vigil at the DES parking lot. The news media captured the moment. The case was generating more buzz with each passing day.
Faleh Almaleki remained a fugitive as his daughter, comatose and unresponsive, clung to life.
Noor's photos, many of them lifted from her Facebook and MySpace pages, were displayed on sites across the internet. They showed a beautiful young woman with long black hair and a wistful expression. Noor rarely smiled in the photos, possibly because of embarrassment over braces she had worn for a while. But her friends say she was naturally upbeat, blessed with a sassy sense of humor that she employed even when times were tough.
"Noor, Noor, Noor. How can I describe Noor?" says one female pal who spent hours on end chatting with her at a coffee shop on the west side of the Phoenix area, where Noor was a part-time student at Glendale Community College. "She was a trusting, loyal person who would calm everyone around her. She was an angel. Like a lot of us [Muslim women], she could be private, but she told me that her dad didn't understand her. We have to respect our parents, but she said he wanted her to be this perfect Arab woman, not questioning or demanding anything — 'Whatever you say, Father' — and that just wasn't her."
On October 24, Ali Almaleki spoke with a television reporter about his sister. He said she had been "going out of her way being disrespectful." He contrasted Iraq and the United States, saying, "Different cultures, different values. One thing to one culture does not make sense to another culture."
But he noted that seeing Noor at the hospital "just broke my heart. Nobody should have to go through that." Ali said that his father had called home the previous day to ask about Noor's condition but that "my mom yelled at him and hung up."
That day, Peoria detectives learned that on October 22, a young man, possibly of Middle Eastern descent, and a woman wearing a veil had picked up a prescription for diabetes in Faleh's name.
Detectives returned to the Almaleki home on October 26 for a follow-up interview with Ali and his mother. By now, the detectives had examined phone records, which showed that Faleh had been in touch with his immediate family and others around the time of the assaults. Sehem admitted that she had lied in her earlier interview with police, but she continued to deny knowing her husband's whereabouts. Mother and son also admitted they had picked up the medicine at the pharmacy. But Seham insisted she had thrown the pill bottles out of her car window, though she couldn't come up with a reason for having done so.
Seham again blamed onetime friend Amal Khalaf for what had happened in the parking lot. Amal got what was coming to her, Seham spewed, because she is the matriarch of a family supposedly flush with drug abusers and thieves.
By contrast, Seham told the detectives, "We have a good family."
Ali told her, "No, Mom. We don't."
Later that evening, Ali Almaleki met alone with Detective Boughey at a Glendale restaurant. Out of his mother's presence, he provided new details of his father's call to him before the assaults. Faleh had just seen Noor and Amal at the DES office. He said his father sounded angry, so he told Faleh to go home. But Ali said Faleh phoned later to say he had run down Noor and Amal with his car.
During the conversation, Faleh told Ali to "man up," because he wouldn't be around anymore.
On October 27, British Customs officials informed U.S. immigration authorities that Faleh Almaleki was in custody in London. Faleh had arrived on a plane from Mexico City using his own name and his U.S. passport. A computer check showed that Faleh was a wanted man in Arizona. British Customs soon put Faleh on a Delta flight to Atlanta, where the feds have a port of entry for incoming fugitives.
On October 28, Mexican authorities contacted Peoria police. They had found Faleh's Jeep — the missing weapon — in a mall parking lot. Crime-scene investigators later found hair, fiber, and human tissue on the vehicle.
On October 29, detectives Chris Boughey and Jeff Balson sat across from their suspect in Georgia. At first, Faleh told them he had run over the two women in a freakish accident after coincidentally finding them at the DES office.
"If I want to try to kill my daughter, why would I kill my daughter with vehicle?" he asked, trying to sound reasonable. "I have no problem with my daughter; this is not the first time she left the house... If I want to kill her, I go buy a gun. I know where they live. I just lost control [of the car]."
Boughey asked him whether he had been trying to scare the women.
"Might be something like this," Faleh claimed, "but I don't try to kill them."
The detectives picked away at the murky account.
"I've been angry," Faleh replied, "and I lost control. I lost the brain." But he continued to insist that no premeditation was involved.
Like his wife, Faleh faulted Amal Khalaf for having "stolen" their 20-year-old daughter from them. He insisted that he loved Noor, noting that his cell phone contained several photos of her. But, as if it were a self-evident truth, Faleh said his daughter should not have become so "Americanized" — that it was wrong.
Boughey asked Faleh whether his family was on his side. Perhaps, the detective said, his attack had restored some of the "honor" supposedly lost by Noor's lifestyle choices.
Faleh didn't reply directly, saying he would certainly help a friend or family member in a similar predicament. "It's our culture," he explained. Faleh asked the detective what he would do if he had such a disobedient daughter.
Boughey responded that he would not crush his daughter with a car. He soon asked Faleh again whether he had meant to hurt the women.
Yes, Faleh Almaleki finally confessed, he had. "If your house has got a fire [in] just part of the house," he said, "do we let the house burn, or [do] we try to stop the fire?" Faleh admitted that his daughter Noor was the "small fire" he had to extinguish.
On October 31, the Peoria detectives escorted him back to Arizona on a commercial airline. At Faleh's initial appearance later that day, a judge set his bail at $5 million.
Doctors at John C. Lincoln North Hospital pronounced Noor Almaleki clinically brain dead at 7 a.m. on November 2. Her family decided to take her off life support. Several members — including her mother and brother — were by Noor's bedside when her heart stopped beating at 11:54 a.m.
Police noted at Noor's autopsy that her eyes, so hauntingly beautiful in photographs, were swollen shut.
Days later, a Maricopa County grand jury indicted Faleh on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, and leaving the scene of an accident.
Noor's violent death struck a nerve worldwide, especially after a county prosecutor officially attached the phrase "honor killing" to it. To some, she would become a symbol of the ills said to infect Muslim culture, ills that would allow a father to slaughter a daughter with the blessing of at least some family members.
The sad case captured the attention of Rana Husseini, an expert on honor killings. A reporter for the English-language Jordan Times and author of Murder in the Name of Honor, Husseini has written about dozens of such crimes in her homeland. "I wish that poor girl had been able to stay safe, maybe in a shelter or something," Husseini says. "It's such a waste of a life."
In Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, men committing such killings often receive lax punishment — sometimes getting sentenced to only months, if that, behind bars.
Someone created a Facebook page within a few days of Noor's death, R.I.P. Noor Faleh Almaleki. Its homepage asked that Noor and "all other victims of senseless honor killings rest in peace. And may God be the guardian of others in danger of sharing that fate. And may we all do something to end honor killings once and for all." More than 3,000 people have written on the page about Noor, her tragic death, and Muslim culture.
One of the comments came from her brother Ali, who wrote, "What grabs the most attention from this situation is the fact that this is a Middle Eastern family. The media has drawn this image that Noor, RIP, was a saint and my dad was the Devil."
Ali wrote that he wasn't "advocating" what his father did, but he insisted that the slaying was unplanned. "You guys [in the media] be careful what you say," he wrote. "That's my father you're talking about. And my father is a loving man. He loved Noor. That may raise eyebrows, and you guys [may ask], 'Why would he do this if he loved her?' " Ali's conclusion: "He lost his mind."
Referring to Noor, he said, "Nobody deserves this, and this never should have happened. And nobody will ever understand the kind of pain my family is enduring."
In the weeks after his arrest and subsequent incarceration, Faleh Almaleki spoke often by phone with family members. Authorities secretly taped every word.
"How is she now?" Faleh asked cousin Jamil during one conversation, which police later had translated from Arabic.
"Who's she?" Jamil asked.
"Noor," Faleh said.
"Noor died, brother," Jamil said.
"What?" Faleh asked.
"Yes, she's gone, Faleh. Now, look after yourself."
"Brother," Faleh replied, "talk to the lawyers and tell them it was not intended to be a murder."
Faleh told Jamil to ask the Iraqi consulate to intervene with the American government.
"Connect it to honor and dishonor and, I don't know, whatever," he said. "And an Iraqi is worth nothing without honor."
Faleh continued to go over the honor-killing theme in phone calls with his wife. Seham chided her husband at one point for having "rushed into it," presumably referring to his violent acts.
"Seham, don't blame me," Faleh protested. "Can you watch Amal's demeanor and do nothing? You can't. Amal brought it upon her."
The subject of legal representation came up several times. Seham mentioned a lawyer who had "pulled a miracle" in another case.
"Is he Arab?" Faleh asked.
"No, not Arab," she replied. "He is a Jew."
Faleh paused. "A Jew?" he said. "Check with Arabs as well. [But] if there is a loophole in this subject — you know, clans, tribalism, something like that — the Jews know of it. See if there is a loophole or something."
"We can say that you have... a psychological problem," Seham suggested. "You have to tell them, 'I am suffering because of the war.' "
Faleh agreed that this would be a good idea.
"Tell them I am tired and feel nervous. I am always suffering from this condition. Tell them I got sick in Iraq. OK?"
Another call between the couple revealed more.
"Noor is gone, Faleh," Seham said, crying as she spoke. "I lost my daughter. My daughter is gone."
"I told you," Faleh replied. "Your daughter was gone anyway."
"No, Faleh," his wife continued. "She's gone! My daughter is gone!"
"Noor is gone, and what about me?" Faleh responded.
"You are gone," his wife concluded.
Faleh Almaleki has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. A trial date hasn't been set.
The Almaleki family declined to speak with New Times. Neither would most of Noor Almaleki's friends speak on the record, saying they feared her family might retaliate. Her boyfriend, Marwan, could not be reached.
At home recovering from her injuries, Amal Khalaf told Peoria police in December that she had taken in Noor because the young woman had nowhere else to go after leaving her parents' house. Just days before the assaults, Amal said, she had persuaded Noor to reach out to her parents in an effort to at least get a dialogue going. Noor spoke with her mother by phone, but Amal said it didn't go well. She said Noor told her that Seham had declared, "Amal is your mom; I'm not your mom."
The blogosphere continues to resonate with opinions about honor killings and about what Faleh's legal strategy should be.
"There's no doubt about it," writes Pamela Geller of the anti-Muslim website atlasshrugs.com. "He ought to be executed."
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That is the overwhelming sentiment, even though prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty.
Others, however, expressed a different point of view.
"Rest in peace, Noor," someone recently wrote on the young woman's memorial Facebook page.
"May Allah forgive her and forgive us for all our sins. And may Allah help her Dad!!!!"