The singer, the suitcase and the search for justice

By Chris Summers
BBC News

Image caption,
Fatima Kama had saved up money from singing at Arab weddings

A former flight attendant has been jailed for life for murdering an Arab singer whose body was found in a suitcase at Heathrow Airport. But why did it take so long to bring him to justice?

In July 1999, cabaret singer Fatima Kama made front-page news when her body was found in a suitcase in the car park at London's Heathrow Airport.

But it has taken 12 years to bring her killer to justice.

In August, a former Kuwait Airways flight attendant, Youssef Wahid, 42, was convicted of murdering the Moroccan-born Canadian and on Monday he was jailed for life.

Her father, Bouchaib, told Canadian journalists after Wahid's conviction: "The judge and jury in London were able to give us something we'd been waiting for for years."

Sentencing him to a minimum of 24 years in jail, Judge Paul Worsley said he was an "intelligent, devious and manipulative man" who had not shown a flicker of remorse.

Wahid failed to shed any light on why he killed Fatima but detectives think the motive was greed or lust.

'Holly Golightly'

Fatima, who earned money singing at Arab weddings and parties, had taken cash and jewellery, worth at least $80,000 (£50,000), from her safety deposit box the day before she was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.

She had moved to London in May 1999 - ostensibly to further her music career - and rented a flat near Marble Arch.

Fatima who was enjoying life partying at nightclubs and casinos, had started dating a wealthy Arab and hoped to record an album.

At the trial, Adrian Darbishire, prosecutor, said: "She was a vivacious and attractive young woman who had a number of rich admirers. There was something of the Holly Golightly about her and her friends."

She flew back to her family home in Montreal to celebrate her 28th birthday.

When she returned to London on 10 July 1999 she was told she would have to share the flat with Youssef Wahid, the brother of her landlord, Adel Wahid.

A week later Youssef Wahid killed her, forced her body into a black suitcase at her flat and took it by taxi to Heathrow.

He was caught on CCTV wheeling the suitcase, on a trolley, through the car park of Terminal 3.

Only moments after he abandoned it another passenger reported it to police, who soon found Fatima's body.

But by the time they had identified her and traced her back to the flat, Wahid had fled the country, on a flight to Beirut, where he was born and still had family.

Image caption,
Wahid shaved off his moustache and went missing for a decade in the Middle East

Scotland Yard made contact with the Lebanese authorities but there was no formal extradition treaty with the UK.

In 2004 the Canadian broadcaster CBC investigated the case and discovered that between July 1999 and August 2000 Wahid was arrested several times in Lebanon but was eventually released.

CBC journalist Claude Vickery said: "When the Lebanese interviewed him they did not know about the pictures of him with the suitcase.

"He told them he had heard a row between Fatima and her wealthy boyfriend and did not want to intervene."

Sentenced to death

Mr Vickery said Fatima was living in a unique environment in a small part of London. "There was an incredible community of pimps and enablers around the Edgware Road and the Dorchester Hotel who drove around in Mercedes procuring things for wealthy Arabs.

"It was a fascinating sub-culture, almost an ecosystem, but all those involved just seemed to vanish after Fatima's death."

Wahid later disappeared - possibly to Saudi Arabia - but in November 2001 a Lebanese court formally found him guilty of Fatima's murder and sentenced him to death in absentia.

Image caption,
Fatima's body had been crammed into a suitcase like this one

Mr Vickery told the BBC: "Wahid was a thief by profession. He was fired from his job as a flight attendant because he had been stealing credit cards from first-class passengers.

"The motive was money. She had a lot of possessions and on the morning she died she had been given a £40,000 watch by her wealthy boyfriend."

It was nearly a decade before Wahid reappeared.

In August last year he was finally tracked down to Bahrain and extradited back to the UK.

Det Ch Insp John McFarlane said: "There was a manhunt for years and years. He has spent 11 or 12 years looking over his shoulder and expecting a knock on the door.

"He thought he was safe in Bahrain because there is no extradition treaty with the UK, but we did a bespoke extradition. It was the first time anyone has been extradited from Bahrain to the UK."

Mr Vickery said: "Fatima was a restless young woman. She had trained as an accountant but wanted more out of life, a bit of adventure. So she had gone to Beirut and had a fledgling singing career. A few people there said she should go to London, where she hoped to find a music promoter."

In a victim impact statement translated from French read to the court Fatima's mother, Hasna Ould, said: "Fatima was my first child and I protected her for 28 years and suddenly a murder took her away for nothing.

"It's as if she died yesterday. At family celebrations my daughter Laila and I are weeping."