Sheikh Maymoun Zarzour
Published: 1 June, 2012
by DAVID ST GEORGE
WITH a broad smile and a swagger, the killer of “man of peace” Sheikh Maymoun Zarzour at his Finsbury Park Mosque left the Old Bailey dock on Wednesday branded a continuing public menace.
In his mind, Hamza Boutouil, believed he was ridding the world of the antichrist when he killed the blind Sheikh by beating him into semi-consciousness and then strangling him with a rope.
But in reality he was snuffing out the existence of someone who was a kind, decent, caring force for good, said Judge Paul Worsley, QC.
Illegal Algerian immigrant Boutouil – not his birth name – worked as a kitchen hand in north London and lived in a squat near the Muslim Welfare House in Seven Sisters Road, where he killed the popular imam on September 2 last year after joining other worshippers at morning prayers led by the victim.
The savage nature of the death of the highly respected cleric, who came to the UK from his native Lebanon seeking asylum in 2008 having lost his sight in a car bombing outrage, shocked the community.
Following a three-day trial at which three of the UK’s leading psychiatrists testified that Boutouil was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and “as mad as you can get”, the jury of four men and eight women returned, in a complex legal procedure, a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity”.
Boutouil was returned to Broadmoor maximum security hospital, in Berkshire, where doctors have been treating him since his arrest.
He was dancing, singing and “rejoicing” at the killing on the pavement outside the crime scene when he was held by police.
Judge Worsley told the court: “It may be a very long time indeed when the doctors no longer regard him as a danger and a risk to the public.”
The judge said the jury had played a vital role in a historic trial by bringing in a special verdict, a procedure normally gone through just once a year.
Although there was no question that Boutouil was the killer, psychiatrists agreed that at the time he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.
Boutouil – real name Aissa Menasria, who entered the UK illegally last year on a forged French ID document – was flanked in the dock by five guards as the judge told him he would be held behind bars indefinitely.
The jury found him not guilty of murder because of his mental state. The court heard that his father and grandmother had mental health problems, but he showed no signs of paranoia until last year when he spoke of his girlfriend “being a witch and casting spells on me”.
The jury heard that he gouged out the eyes of the imam as some kind of ritual.
He believed he was Jesus, and often used the mosque. After he loudly recited passages from the Koran, people became suspicious of him. He later confessed that he believed the victim was “the devil” and was facing his judgement day when he was attacked, said prosecutor Jonathan Turner, QC.
He chose the Muslim holy day of Friday for his attack. Boutouil went to Sheikh Zarzour’s office just before 9am and after prayers, on the pretext of seeking advice, which the holy man was always willing to give.
A savage beating, headbutting, gouging and battering followed.
“The imam was not going to sell his life cheaply,” said the QC. “He bravely fought back, despite his blindness. There was a violent struggle before he was strangled with an ornamental knotted cord. His blood had spread across Boutouil’s shoes.”
The killer disappeared to smoke several cannabis joints but returned to the scene at 11.30am “to rave and rejoice” at his horrific deed.
CCTV footage showed Boutouil leave the imam’s office and walk through the centre’s courtyard with his hands in the air before being subdued and handcuffed by police officers.
A shopkeeper in Seven Sisters Road told police: “He had his arms stretched out above his head as if celebrating a goal.”
Boutouil smiled and laughed while being questioned by a mental health team about the attack, the court heard.
He told them in Arabic: “I’ve killed the false prophet. He was a false prophet and I am a true believer.”
The mental health assessment determined he was “suffering from an acute psychotic episode and strong delusional beliefs”.
Boutouil had not slept for several days before the attack.
Judge Worsley said the lost humanity of the Sheikh was a tragedy and he left a gap that could never be filled within the community in Finsbury Park.