IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Killings shattered dreams of rural Iraqi family

Relatives of the girl, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, and prosecutors detailed the teen's hopes and life during the trial of Steven Dale Green, 24, in western Kentucky, who was convicted of killing her.
Iraq Rape Slaying Victims
This undated photo shows Abeer Qassim al-Janabi as a young girl in Iraq. Steven Dale Green, convicted of raping and killing al-Janabi and murdering her family, was sentenced to life in prison Thursday in a case that drew attention to the emotional and psychological strains on soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The beautiful, dark-haired girl in the photograph stands near a wall in pre-invasion Iraq. What is unseen and now lost, her family says, is her dream of moving to the big city and getting married.

"Abeer was a strong woman," said her aunt, Ameena Hamza Rashid al-Janabi. "She was very proud to be young."

Relatives of the girl, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, and prosecutors detailed the teen's hopes and life during the civilian trial of former Pfc. Steven Dale Green, 24, in western Kentucky. They showed pictures of the family at home, and relatives recounted their aspirations for a better life.

Green, of Midland, Texas, was convicted of multiple counts, including conspiracy and murder in the March 2006 killings of 14-year-old Abeer and her father, mother and 6-year-old sister near Mahmoudiya, Iraq, about 20 miles south of Baghdad. But jurors couldn't reach a decision Thursday on an appropriate punishment for Green, resulting in the ex-soldier receiving a life sentence rather than the death penalty.

Al-Janabi family members testified at the guilt and sentencing phases of Green's trial, telling jurors through an interpreter about the al-Janabi family — Kassem, Fakhriya, Abeer, and Hadeel, who were killed in the attack, and two boys, Mohammed and Ahmed, who weren't home during the slayings.

'Fragrance of flowers'
The family was close and dreamed of owning a home, sending the four children to school and living in peace, said a cousin, Abu Farras.

Kassem al-Janabi, a thin man whom jurors saw in a photo from his wedding day wearing a slightly too-large suit, was so fond of his sister Ameena's children he named his own girls after them. He called the oldest Abeer, which means "fragrance of flowers," and the younger girl Hadeel, which means "sound of the water," Ameena said.

Kassem al-Janabi doted on his family when he wasn't working as a guard in an orchard of date and palm trees, Farras said. His oldest son, 15-year-old Mohammed, recalled Kassem taking the two boys on car rides to the market and helping with homework.

"He had a dream he would live and eat like all the other people," Farras said. "He had a dream he would have a house one day. He had a dream the kids would finish college."

Kassem's wife of 25 years, Fakhriya, was described by her sons as a good cook and stay-at-home mom who wanted a home and furniture of her own, not borrowed, Farras said.

"My parents are not like anyone else," said Mohammed, who shared a bedroom with his five family members.

A typical teen
Abeer, the oldest child, was a typical teenager in a rural area — hopes for new clothes and a life in the big city, Baghdad in her case. Soldiers who testified in Green's trial said Abeer looked older than her early teens, with one soldier pegging her age at about 20.

Hadeel, shown in pictures with dark hair like her sister, loved a sweet plant that grew in the yard, was playful but not very mischievous, Ahmed al-Janabi said. The older brothers and little sister enjoyed games of hide and seek.

"She was good and she would play with me," said Ahmed, who didn't give his age.

Mohammed and Ahmed returned from school the afternoon of the attack to find smoke billowing from the windows. After going to their uncle's home, they returned to the house to find their father shot in the head, mother shot in the chest, Hadeel shot in the face and Abeer's remains burning.

Since then, Mohammed and Ahmed said, they haven't gone to school.

"I refuse to go," Mohammed said. "I don't have the mood to study."

Seeing the bodies of his family changed Ahmed's dream. Now, Ahmed said he wants to be a policeman — "so I can protect myself and other people and poor people."