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Culture Clash

What began as a romance between the children of two Afghan families soon spiraled into violence and tragedy


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Shortly afterward, Nargis’ brothers Farhad and Ajmal, along with Bilquis and, depending on whom you talk to, a widely differing number of other individuals went to the Rahimis’ house in Murray.

Abdul Mullahkhel later said his brothers “went in peace, as is our culture,” to get the phone back and talk through their differences. The Rahimis say the Mullahkhels attacked their home.

Nazir says he came out of the house to see his brother bleeding badly from a head wound and his pregnant sister on the ground, screaming, “Leave my brother alone.”

“I couldn’t hold myself back,” he says. He went back inside and emerged with a knife in each hand.

The street battle was as confused and contentious as the events leading up to it. “It was muddied up from the beginning as to who was involved,” Bass says. Though there was an independent witness of the street fight, the person “couldn’t say who was with whom.”

In a series of calls to 911 by members of the Rahimi and Mullahkhel families, along with witnesses who describe people hitting each other with boards, a male can be heard bellowing, “You come into my house, you fucking gangsters?!”

Bilquis called 911 begging for an ambulance, but she did not know the complete address where her brother lay dying in the street, stabbed, she told the dispatcher, by her sister’s boyfriend. “Ma’am, he’s turning blue,” she screamed.

The one fact Bass was confident about “was Nazir stabbed and took the life of Farhad.” Nisar Rahimi had been hit in the head and bled profusely, but “we never ever determined who hit him in the head,” Bass says.

Nazir later told an immigration-court judge that Farhad had a knife and that he was only defending himself. “I had a knife in my hand,” he said. “My intention was to stop him. My intention wasn’t to harm him or kill him.”

But, Bass says, “There was no evidence Farhad was armed.” The only statement he got from Nazir about Farhad’s stabbing was that Nazir had “hit him with something in his hand,” then as they talked further, Nazir said that he had used a knife.

The Rahimis say that Nazir killed Farhad in self-defense, but Bass doesn’t agree. While a resident has every right to protect his or her home, even outside the property, Bass’ investigation led him to conclude that Nazir chased and confronted Farhad and so “was on the offensive when the stabbing took place.”

Nisar never imagined Nazir would end up in jail. “I’m sitting here because of him. He defended me, his family. To others, he might be a murderer; to me, he’s a life’s savior.”

In November 2009, Nazir was sentenced by Judge Randall Skanchy to zero to five years in prison for criminal homicide by assault. At his sentencing, a line of bailiffs separating the two families in the courtroom, Nisar’s girlfriend, Natasha Skiby, speaking on behalf of the Rahimi family, apologized for Farhad’s death. “We are very sorry for the loss of Farhad,” she told the court.

Farhad’s father, Omar, asked the court, “How can time heal when I’m reminded of Farhad’s loss every day?” He requested that Nazir receive no mercy.

Farhad’s oldest brother, Abdul, called Nazir “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” His family would never forget nor forgive. “It hurts me to say this, but I ask God to lay upon your family as much pain and sorrow as you have caused my family.”

April 5, 2011, Nazir Rahimi had his first and only parole-board hearing, one that both families attended.

Parole-board member Jesse Gallegos said that according to Nazir’s pre-sentence investigation report [PSI], there was little risk of him repeating his violent behavior. “You rarely see that type of statement in a PSI,” Gallegos said.

Bilquis’ voice shook with emotion and rage as she told Gallegos that while she understood his urging her family to forgive Nazir and move on, if he had seen what he did to her younger brother, then “no one would tell you to forgive.”

A few weeks after Nazir Rahimi finished his five-year sentence on April 20, 2013, Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents transferred him to Utah County Jail, which has a contract with ICE to hold those undergoing deportation proceedings.

On Jan. 21, 2014, Nazir appeared before immigration Judge David C. Anderson for his application for Convention Against Torture protection to stay his removal proceedings. Nazir had to establish, Anderson wrote in his ruling, “that it is more likely than not that he would be tortured if removed to the proposed country of removal,” namely Afghanistan. Nazir also had to show that “he would be tortured in Afghanistan at the instigation of a public official or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official.”

Nazir and two of his sisters testified to Anderson about the killing of their brothers by Islamist radicals and their subsequent problems with the Mullahkhels.

Breshna pleaded for her brother’s life. If the court sent him back to Afghanistan, “he would die. He will get killed,” she said. Her family had been unable to prevent the deaths of her two brothers in 1999, but this time, she said, “you guys can prevent my brother from dying, so please, judge, don’t send my brother to Afghanistan. My parents will die. They can’t see that anymore.”

Anderson ruled that while Nazir “does face grave danger in Afghanistan” from both the Taliban and the Mullahkhels, “regrettably” he would have to deny his application, as Nazir had failed to show that public officials in Afghanistan would be complicit.

Nazir says the ruling is a “death sentence.” If his appeal fails and he is deported to Afghanistan, he will be viewed as “a spy, an undercover agent, as American, not Afghani,” he says. With Haji Rahimi’s background in peace activism and the fate of his two oldest brothers, Nazir fears that “the Taliban will not let me walk away easily.”

And if they don’t get him, then, Nisar says, the Mullahkhels will. “If they can afford to pay $10,000 here, in Afghanistan, you can pay almost nothing for a life.”

Shortly after that hearing, Haji Rahimi traveled to Afghanistan to meet with a friend and senior adviser to the Afghan ministry of education. Haji asked the man to write a letter stating that it will not be safe for his son if he is deported to Afghanistan.

“I need him, my wife needs him,” Haji says. “We want him to take care of us. We do not want to lose another son.”

The Mullahkhels have also continued to struggle, both with the courts and one another. In 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a 20-count federal indictment by a grand jury against five members of the family—father Omar, sons Abdul and Ajmal, and daughters Bilquis and Nargis—saying they had defrauded the U.S. government of $1.3 million through a benefits scheme in their downtown market.

Domestic problems have continued to plague the family. Omar invited the sisters and their partners to “talk out their problems” at his home, according to a police report in June 2012. The meeting devolved into the couples exchanging threats of violence and the police being called.

By the end of 2013, the five Mullahkhels had reached plea agreements, with three of the five receiving sentences of probation, ranging from 36 months to, in Bilquis’ case, five years, from federal Judge David Sam. On Feb. 24, 2014, Sam sentenced Bilquis to two years in a federal-corrections facility, with a further three years on probation, for violating curfew and other plea-deal stipulations. Sam also recommended she receive treatment for medical and mental-health issues.

Omar’s sentencing for the benefits fraud is set for May 10, 2014. It will only be after that, says U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch, that the federal government will attempt to collect on the $617,000 forfeiture order that Sam signed off on in August 2013.

Nazir Rahimi’s prison sentence ended in April 2013, but he remains behind bars while the fight over his deportation drags on. He struggles to maintain hope. “I’m a man with no country,” he says. “I’m ashamed of my own country. I only have hope in God now, nothing else.” One day, perhaps, the Mullahkhels will forgive him and move on. “I know loss of life, I lost two brothers.”

Nazir’s family, meanwhile, consider their own future. Nisar says he doesn’t want to live in the same state as the Mullahkhels. Six months after Farhad’s 2008 death, he was charged with tampering with a witness following an altercation with Nargis Mullahkhel in a nightclub. Three years later, he took a plea in abeyance to a class A misdemeanor, receiving probation and community service.

Nisar is now considering following his sisters Breshna, who relocated with her husband’s work to California, and Mumtaz, who left the state out of fear of Abdul Mullahkhel. “I can’t live with this anymore,” Nisar says. “I’m pretty sick of it.”

Violent death, he says, has played far too prominent a role in his life so far. “I’ve noticed that the more you run away from something, it chases you most.” 

On April 19, the Salt Lake Islamic Centers will host Sawtul Quran, an Islamic lecture series aimed at youth empowerment and spiritual reform at the University Guest House (110 Fort Douglas Blvd., 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.). E-mail for more information.


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