Inside the FBI’s decades-long hunt to find the most wanted man, Yasser Saeed, accused of honor killings

It didn’t take long for authorities to suspect Yasser Saeed of involvement in the murders of his two teenage daughters, whose bodies were found riddled with bullets inside an orange-colored taxi on New Year’s Day 2008.

Said, who was the last person seen with 17-year-old Sarah and 18-year-old Amina, was not near the taxi when it was found outside a Dallas-area hotel — despite a 911 call by one of the girls insisting he was “shot”. fire on them. When officials finally arrived at Said’s home, authorities were surprised to learn that a father of three had disappeared into thin air. The next day, Said was charged with two counts of premeditated murder in what prosecutors called “honour killings.”

But former investigators and witnesses who testified on behalf of the prosecution at Said’s trial in Dallas County District Court detailed how it took a 12-year manhunt before the suspect was actually arrested. Meanwhile, Saeed allegedly took extreme measures to evade the police while being listed by the FBI, including enlisting the help of his son and brother and jumping from the apartment yard after a maintenance worker spotted him.

He was eventually found in 2020 hiding in Justin’s Texas home about 40 minutes from the horrific crime scene. Authorities said the house had a hidden room in the back of a converted garage with a cot.

“We didn’t know where he was,” former Irving Detective Jo Henning told jurors on Friday, noting that authorities had found new records that he had left the country. “We don’t know where he has been all those 12 years.”

Said, 64, has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge for the crime, which his lawyers insisted was only for him because he was a Muslim. However, prosecutors alleged that Saeed was a “possession and control freak” and killed his daughters after learning the teens had friends and tried to escape.

Over the past three days in court, prosecutors and witnesses have detailed the power, control, and fear he wields, including choosing where the family will live and who they will communicate with.

“He was in control of what they did, who they talked to, who they could be friends with, if – and who they were – they could date. He was in control of everything in his home,” Prosecutor Lauren Black said during her opening remarks on Tuesday.

In the weeks leading up to the murders, Saeed was allegedly “angrier” after feeling that he had lost this power over his wife and daughters, who were dating non-Muslim men and planning to go to college. However, it wasn’t until December 2007, when prosecutors alleged that Said aimed a gun at Amina’s head and threatened to kill her, that the teens and their mother began planning their escape shortly before Christmas.

The way patio doors and shrubs were left on the ground, investigators believed someone had climbed “over the porch.”

Saeed’s ex-wife, Patricia Owens, told jurors on Friday that she and her daughters fled to Oklahoma on Christmas Day. But the next day, Said reports their disappearance to the Louisville Police Department – prompting Amina and Sarah to eventually return to the Dallas area on New Year’s Eve. The authorities did not reveal the whereabouts of the young man’s brother, Islam Saeed, at that time.

Owens testified that she would “stay at home” as her husband drove her daughters to get food and talk. Authorities believe the girls were shot before 7:30 p.m. near the Omni Hotel. At the time, Sarah Said called 911 twice, confirming that she was “dying” after her father shot her.

“She’s asking for help and naming her killer, her father, Yasir Saeed,” Black said of Sarah’s 911 call shown to jurors this week.

Authorities later learned that the taxi the girls had found wasn’t actually Saeed’s rented car – but a car he had borrowed from fellow driver Jehad Tafal. Tafal told jurors on Thursday that Saeed had to borrow his car a few days before Christmas, citing his disdain for the owner of the car he usually rents. Former Irving Police Detective John Shingle told jurors that while the orange taxi usually had GPS, it was significantly turned off on New Year’s Eve.

“There are about 24 hours where we don’t know where that cabin went,” Shingle added.

Randall Johnson, who was the lead Irving police investigator on the case until mid-2008, testified in court Thursday that Owens presented authorities with a box of ammunition when they arrived at Said’s home after the murders. He said that among the 9mm bullets, they matched the shell casings recovered from the cabin.

Henig also stressed to jurors on Friday that there were no fingerprints inside the cabin, but they quickly learned that Said was in the car before the murders. Investigators said Saeed was previously known to have carried a weapon while driving his taxi.

Hours later, authorities received a search warrant for the apartment – but only found an empty unit and an open glass patio door.

During questioning, Saeed’s defense lawyers argued that the police had deliberately ignored the girls’ friends as suspects because that did not fit with their “narration” that their father was responsible. Said’s lawyer also pushed the idea that both friends had not been checked for gun remnants.

“First we were looking at the two friends and then we focused on the defendant,” Johnson said.

But all previous detectives admitted that the case soon multiplied from a mere murder investigation into a manhunt. The authorities now know that during that time Saeed enlisted his son Islam and his brother Yassin to help stay in hiding.

In 2014, authorities added Saeed to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. Three years later, authorities nearly arrested Saeed in a North Texas apartment building after he was spotted by a maintenance worker. Jorge Camacho, who worked at Canyon Apartments in Bedford in 2017, testified in Spanish via a translator that he had received a request to fix a leak inside one of the units.

When he knocked on the door and tried to open the door of Islam Saeed’s rental unit, the lock was still attached to the door.

Pushing the door as hard as he could, Camacho said he yelled inside the apartment saying it was an “emergency” and to be let in. In the end, he said, Said opened the door.

He had hair on his face and was wearing a hat. “His face was down,” Camacho said, adding that he finally saw his face before he left.

Camacho said that while he was returning the keys, he met his manager, who handed him the most-wanted FBI poster—and asked him if he had seen Saeed. The maintenance worker confirmed that he had just seen Saeed moments ago inside the apartment.

The apartment manager quickly called the FBI, who arrived at the building and interviewed Camacho. While speaking to investigators, Camacho said he looked into the apartment and saw “the blinds open and close.” In the end, the police tried to meet Islam Saeed at the compound, but he refused to let them in to search the apartment.

According to Saeed’s son’s criminal complaint, he then called one of his uncles and said, “We have a big problem.” Since then, Saeed’s son and brother have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for helping him go into hiding.

Hours later, authorities received a search warrant for the apartment – but only found an empty unit and an open glass patio door. Irving Police Department detective David Toll testified Friday that when authorities entered the building, they found papers belonging to Said’s brother and son — and took his fingerprints. A toothbrush and luggage were also found.

Tal added that the way patio doors and shrubs were left on the ground, investigators believed someone had climbed “over the balcony.”

Less than two weeks after searching for the apartment, on August 26, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol spotted Islam Saeed and another person trying to cross the border into Canada. Islam’s criminal complaint said the driver said they were on a “crazy road trip.” It was not immediately known whether Islam and the other person had been arrested or had crossed the border.

It will take another three years for the authorities to catch up with Saeed again, this time in Justin, Texas. Special Agent Daniel Jimenez said investigators have started a round-the-clock surveillance of the home, which was purchased in the name of Yassin’s daughter.

“This was a single-family dwelling in a rural Justin area with an attached garage,” Jimenez said. “It was a lonely neighborhood.”

Jimenez testified that Islam and Yassin were seen regularly driving home with bags of groceries and would eventually leave after hours with “garbage bags” they put in their car. “We wanted to know where the garbage bags go,” the special agent added.

On August 17, 2020, Saeed’s brother and son left the house, and customers saw what looked like someone else’s “shadow”.

Days later, FBI agents received a search warrant and entered the house. Immediately after authorities announced her presence at Justin’s home, Gimenez said Said “came out, surrendered, and lay on the floor.”

The special agent added that Saeed “was handcuffed and detained peacefully without incident.” After his arrest, investigators entered the house and found “a garage door converted from a typical garage door to French doors.” In the back wall, there was a “space built to include a room” of plywood.

He added, “In the room there was a baby bed and a rug.”

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