It’s true that it’s easy to feel like you’re living in a safe little bubble in the UAE. Cars are often left unlocked, maybe even your front door. I never feel worried walking down a dark street, and if my children are out of view, I don’t instantly panic.
We must have made hundreds of trips to the malls here, and I don’t think I’ve ever thought twice about letting my boys wander into a well-kept mall restroom. My only words of warning as the door swings closed and they disappear from sight: “Wash your hands afterwards.”
Crimes like the heinous murder that took place in Abu Dhabi last Monday simply don’t happen here. Except the unthinkable did just occur. I don’t want to dwell on the details, as they’re headlines around the world – except to say that an American kindergarten teacher, by the name of Ibolya Ryan, was brutally murdered in the bathroom of an upscale mall as her 11-year-old twin boys waited for her outside.
Those poor, poor boys had no idea what had happened; they didn’t hear their mother’s cries for help, and eventually took themselves homes (they live nearby). The twins are now being cared for by their father, Ibolya’s ex-husband, who has flown in from Vienna with the former couple’s 13-year-old daughter to face the painful, life-shattering aftermath.
Heartbreaking, heart-rending news – and as you can imagine, it’s sent shockwaves through the country.
There’s a few things that have struck me about this awful crime. First is the speed at which an arrest was made; with CCTV cameras all over the UAE, the video footage of the alleged killer (an Emirati woman of Yemeni descent), clad in an abaya and burqa, was released almost immediately, showing a rather bulky, shrouded figure entering and leaving the mall (as for the chilling music dubbed over the pictures, I honestly don’t know what they were thinking – it’s the stuff of nightmares as it is). From these surveillance pictures, they know the ‘Reem Island Ghost’ waited for more than an hour for a Westerner to enter the bathroom.
An hour later, the killer planted a primitive bomb outside an American doctor’s apartment, having visited terrorist websites to glean bomb-making information. Within 48 hours, she’d been arrested in a dramatic night-time raid on her villa – a sequence of events that can also be viewed online in a highly produced police video.
That both these videos must have been watched hundreds of thousands of times will be good news for the authorities. The message is clear: the UAE prides itself on being a safe haven in the turbulent Middle East; the UAE’s economy, tourism industry, glossy image and investment hubs are built around the country’s safe reputation – as a place free from terrorists. And this is not about to change.
But I can’t be the only person wondering if we’ve all – and I mean the public – have perhaps got a bit complacent. It’s a stark reminder that there are people who will hurt others everywhere. Even in the UAE.
If convicted, the killer will face the death sentence – although national laws allow the family of the victim to issue a pardon. Would you?