Witness intimidated whilst testifying in Libyan sectarian stabbing case

Flatmate placed under police protection as girlfriend of the accused's brother is thrown of the courtroom for taking pictures of him testifying. Court is told that the witness had previously been contacted by a relative of one attacker.

The sinister undercurrent of sectarian hatred was almost tangible in magistrate Josette Demicoli's courtroom this morning, as the compilation of evidence against Zouhir Elfezqa, accused of the attempted murder of fellow Libyan Wadea Al Maghrbi, 25, in Swieqi last month, continued.

The case revolves around a stabbing incident that took place in Swieqi on 30 January, following an argument between four Libyans which left one of them in danger of dying.

Zouhir Elfezqa, 31, who lives in Swieqi and a second man, 21-year-old Mohammed Abdul Hafid Abukem, also of Swieqi are accused of the attempted murder of Al Maghrbi as well as inflicting grievous injuries on him and Mohamed Hafed Al-Arara.

Al-MaghrbiI is undergoing separate proceedings, on charges of attempting to inflict grievous bodily harm on Elfezqa, causing him slight injuries, holding him against his will and carrying a knife without a police permit.

The court had been told how Al Maghrbi and Mohamed Abdul Hafid Abuke had called at an apartment occupied by Elfezqa and Mohamed Hafed al-Arara. The visitors then allegedly attacked Elfezqa and during the ensuing struggle Al Magharbi was stabbed in the thigh, after which he was rushed to hospital in critical condition.

Testifying this morning, A&E consultant Jonathan Joslin said that Al Maghrbi had suffered a 3-centimetre stab wound, which transected an artery in his left thigh and through which he had lost a considerable amount of blood. He was saved by several blood transfusions, said the doctor.

Mohamed Hafed al-Arara, Elfezqa’s flatmate, also testified today. He told the court that Al Maghrbi and Abukem had called at the flat at around 7am. The former was carrying a metal pipe and had a knife tucked in his belt, while the latter was also carrying a knife. 

He had seen the two men before, saying they were friends. 

“They went straight into Elfezqa’s bedroom and Al Maghrbi hit him on the head with the pipe. Then they dragged him into the living room where they continued to beat him,” the witness said.

Al-Arara testified that men were accusing Elfezqa of collaborating with the Tripoli police. The witness said that Elfezqa had been trying to block the blows with his hands. He had seen Al Maghrbi draw his knife, which he described as being as long as his forearm, but had not seen him stab Elfezqa with it as he had then run out of the room to call the police, he said.

Inspector James Grech, prosecuting, said the witness was omitting important details, which he had given in his initial statement. “I know why he is doing this. It is because Abukem’s older brother has been calling him.”

“I know why he is doing this. It is because Abukem’s older brother has been calling him.” Inspector James Grech

He read out Al-Arara's statement. “Mohammed had a knife and Wadea [Al Magharbi] had a metal pipe. They went directly to Zouhir's bed. I stayed near the door but because the bedroom is opposite the front door - I saw everything. They pulled Zouhir out of his bed and dragged him into the living room. Wadea hit him in the back of the head with a pipe and they started beating him, shouting 'you were working with those people.’”

He also confirmed that Abukem’s older brother, Ramsi, had called him and told him to get his brother out of the mess he was in. “I told him I would only speak the truth,” al-Arara said.

Several times, the witness could be seen to nervously look over his shoulder, in the direction of a group of men peering through a gap in the door as he testified. The court ordered police officers to eject them from the building and ordered that the witness be granted police protection.

Cross-examining, Elfezqa's lawyer Arthur Azzopardi asked him how he had felt went he heard the loud knock on the door at 7 am. “I thought they were just drunk and wanted to sleep,” said al-Arara. Abukem had then slapped Zouhir before drawing the knife.

Asked if he was aware of the problems with the Tripoli police, the witness became evasive. Azzopardi asked him whether Ramsi had said the same words to another person. He had.

“Zouhir was just defending himself,” the witness said, adding that he had not at any time raised a hand to his aggressors.

Azzopardi pointed out that his client had been asleep when the two men barged in and started hitting him, yet he was also facing the most serious charges.

Lawyer Martin Fenech, appearing for Abukem, argued that Elfezqa was actually the aggressor, insisting that Al Maghrbi would have died had he not been given prompt medical treatment.

Midway through this morning's sitting before Magistrate Josette Demicoli, a surly Eastern European woman, who was later identified as the girlfriend of the accused's brother Ramsi, entered the courtroom and sat down next to the accused. She was ordered out of the courtroom after the court noticed that she had been taking pictures of the witness testifying.

The court ordered the confiscation of the woman's mobile phone and informed the commissioner of police. Asked for her details, the woman first gave the court one address but later gave another, which appears to be a registered address for several companies with ties to Libya. Confronted with this. “I live at two addresses,” the woman replied, betraying no emotion.

Magistrate Demicoli granted Elfezqa bail against a deposit of €2,300 and a personal guarantee of €15,000. Abukem was remanded in custody.  

 Police inspectors James Grech and Elton Taliana are prosecuting. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi appeared parte civile for Elfezqa in the case against Abukem, whilst lawyer Martin Fenech was legal aid for Abukem.

The court will continue to hear evidence when the compilation of evidence resumes in two week's time.