A woman who was beheaded near Buffalo, New York — allegedly by her husband — may have been on the phone with her sister when she was killed.
Asma Firfirey of suburban Cape Town, South Africa, told the Afrikaans newspaper Die Burger that she was on the phone with her sister, Aasiya Zubair Hassan, last week when she heard Hassan tell her husband to calm down. She said she heard Hassan say the two could talk about their impending divorce the following day. Then she heard something that sounded like her sister struggling to breathe, she said. “I can only imagine how scared and emotional she must have been before she died,” Firfirey said in the interview, reported in English by South Africa’s News 24. Police have charged Hassan’s husband, Muzzammil Hassan, with second-degree, or intentional, murder in the death of his wife, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Her decapitated body was found at the offices of Bridges TV, the television network where Muzzammil Hassan was chief executive officer and Aasiya Hassan was general manager. Hassan told Orchard Park police his wife was dead, led officers to her body and was arrested Thursday, said Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
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Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz on Tuesday contradicted a CNN report that quoted him as saying Hassan confessed to the crime. A Buffalo attorney told CNN on Tuesday that he expects to represent Hassan but declined further comment, saying details had not yet been worked out. Hassan came to America from Pakistan 25 years ago and became a successful banker, but he and his wife were troubled by the negative perception of Muslims, Voice of America reported in 2004. Speaking in December 2004, Hassan said his wife, then pregnant, was worried about that perception and “felt there should be an American Muslim media where her kids could grow up feeling really strong about their identity as an American Muslim.” “So she came up with the idea and turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you do it’ ” he said. “And I was like, I have no clue about television. I’m a banker. … And her comment was, ‘You have an MBA. Why don’t you write a business plan’ ” Bridges TV began as a television network for Muslim-Americans, aimed at overcoming the negative stereotypes associated with the religion. “There should be a Muslim media,” Muzzammil Hassan told VOA, “so that Muslim children growing up in America grow up with the self-confidence and high self-esteem about their identity both as Americans and as Muslims.” In the past few years, according to a former employee who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, Bridges TV transformed itself into more of a cross-cultural network seeking to bridge the gap between all cultures. Most of their employees were not Muslim, the former employee said, and Muzzammil Hassan himself was not devout. Aasiya Hassan filed for divorce February 6, police said, and Muzzammil Hassan was served with divorce papers at the station. That night, he showed up at the couple’s home, she notified authorities and he was served with a restraining order. Police are not commenting on details of the crime, except to say the woman’s body did not appear to have been moved. They also would not divulge what Muzzammil Hassan told police or the suspected motive. The law firm representing Aasiya Hassan refused to comment, only confirming that she had filed for divorce. Benz told CNN on Tuesday that police had responded to several domestic violence calls at the couple’s address, but no one was arrested. Firfirey, as well as a Pakistani woman identifying herself as another of Aasiya Hassan’s sisters, characterized her as living in fear. Firfirey said the last time she saw her sister was in May 2008, when she visited South Africa. When she arrived, she was badly injured, and Firfirey’s family paid the equivalent of about $3,000 for her to be treated, she said. Aasiya Hassan returned to America, she said, because she wanted to complete her MBA degree and “didn’t want to leave her children with that monster.” She said she calls Muzzammil Hassan “the fat man with evil eyes.” Aasiya Hassan would have graduated March 6, Firfirey said. A woman in Pakistan using the name Salma Zubair posted on a blog that she is the sister of “this brutally murdered woman.” “She lived her 8 years of married life with fear in heart,” Zubair wrote. “He had already frightened her enough that she couldn’t muster up her guts and leave him, and when she finally did gather that much strength he killed her so brutally. She lived to protect her children from this man and his family and she died doing so.” She said Aasiya Hassan “had always been a very loving person, not even one person in this world can say a small wrong word about her … she had always dreamed a life of a happily married family, which she did her best to achieve.” Both women said they were worried about the couple’s children, ages 4 and 6. Firfirey said they were being cared for by a colleague of the couple. Muzzammil Hassan also has two older children from a previous marriage. Members of Muzzammil Hassan’s family did not return calls from CNN on Monday. The former employee told CNN that Aasiya Hassan was popular at the station and was very kind. Muzzammil Hassan was known among employees for having a temper — he sometimes would yell at and demean his wife, but at other times appeared to be a loving husband and father, the former employee said. Bridges TV released a statement Monday saying its staff was “deeply shocked and saddened by the murder of Aasiya Hassan and the subsequent arrest of Muzzammil Hassan. Our deepest condolences and prayers go out to the families of the victim.” Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, said Aasiya Hassan’s death serves “as a wake-up call to call of us, that violence against women is real and cannot be ignored … the Muslim community is not exempt from this issue. We, the Muslim community, need to take a strong stand against domestic violence.”