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Witness identifies suspects in Yameen Rasheed murder trial

The witness placed them at the crime scene.



A secret witness on Wednesday identified three of the prime suspects charged over the murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed and placed them at the crime scene.

Yameen Rasheed, a satirist and IT professional, was stabbed to death in the stairwell of his apartment building in the early hours of April 23, 2017.

Testifying via an audio link, the witness recalled hearing screams and seeing two men exit the building between 2:45am and 3:00am. 

“I was in that area at the time it happened that night. I went near the house when I heard screaming,” said the witness, whose voice was altered to avoid identification. 

“Then two people came out of the house and one of them went to a man on a motorbike on the corner near the house, and got on the back. The other got on another bike parked there and they left.”

The pair who came out of the building were wearing green surgical masks and the man waiting outside was wearing a cap, the witness said.

The witness identified the three men from among the six defendants

Ismail Haisham Rasheed and Ahmed Zihan Ismail were the two men who came out of the house and Ismail Rasheed was the man waiting outside, the witness confirmed, as a camera placed in the courtroom zoomed in to each of the defendant’s faces. 

The witness also recalled the clothes worn by the two men. Zihan, the shorter of the two, was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans and Haisham was wearing a dark blue shirt and camouflage pants.

The witness claimed to have been close enough to see their faces as they drove off eastwards on Iskandharu Magu. 

Last week, the prosecution’s key witness claimed to have heard the defendants plotting the murder in various places, including the Furqan mosque and Thoiba mosque in Malé. The ringleader was Haisham, he told the court. Zihan talked about the stabbing after the night of the murder, he said.

The witness said he was able to identify Haisham and Zihan from photos released by police of two suspects inside Yameen’s building. Police also released a photo that showed the pair getting on two separate motorcycles waiting outside.

Ismail Rasheed kept watch outside the building, he said.

At Wednesday’s hearing, a third secret witness testified to confirm that the light in the stairwell had been snuffed out shortly before Yameen was murdered. 

The light was on when the witness left the house around 2am but was off when he or she returned about 20 minutes later.

During the last hearing, a police forensic officer explained that the light bulb had been loosened from the holder.

The prosecution also tried to call to the stand a police officer who prepared a fingerprint comparison report. But Haisham’s lawyer objected, citing High Court rulings on the admissibility of evidence with questionable chain of custody. 

The prosecutor agreed to delay taking the officer’s testimony.

Defence lawyers also complained about the prosecution not summoning witnesses in order. The witnesses to be summoned were being changed on short notice, they said.

Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain sided with the prosecution. It was hard to know which witnesses could be summoned as the case involved secret witnesses and police officers who might be posted outside the capital, he said.

But he advised the prosecutor to notify the court two days in advance about the witnesses who would be summoned for the next trial date on August 21. 

Along with Haisham, Zihan and Ismail Rasheed, the other defendants charged over the murder are Mohamed Dhifran, Hassan Shifaz and Hussain Ziyad. All six were arrested within days and charged with felony murder.

A seventh suspect, Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed, was previously charged with aiding and abetting murder. But he was later transferred to house arrest. The Prosecutor General’s office declined to press charges against an eighth suspect.

The group of radicalised young men believed Yameen was guilty of insulting Islam, police said.