NEW YORK, N.Y. - The New York City cab driver from Pakistan and his daughter both began weeping the second she first took the witness stand at his murder conspiracy trial. Once composed, she told a jury that they had a loving relationship — and that he had once threatened to kill her.
The encounter came in a case where Mohammad Ajmal Choudhry has pleaded not guilty to charges he arranged the killings last year of two relatives of a man who helped his daughter flee an arranged marriage in Pakistan. Prosecutors at the trial in federal court in Brooklyn have likened the shooting deaths to so-called honour killings - the ruthless vigilantism against Pakistani women accused of disgracing their families.
"I don't want to hear any more complaints about you," Amina Ajmal claimed her father warned her when he first learned she wanted out of the marriage. "I will kill you if you do anything wrong."
Though she agreed to testify for the government, Ajmal often sounded and acted on Thursday like she didn't want to be there. There were long pauses before meekly mumbling answers to prosecutor's questions about her father's alleged misdeeds. Yes, she answered, he had threatened her, but she quickly added, "I don't think he meant it."
Asked earlier to describe their relationship, Ajmal responded, "We were very close. ... He loved me."
The defence claims that Choudhry, who was in Brooklyn at the time of the deaths in Pakistan, had no hand in them. They say government agents coached the daughter on how to manipulate her father into making empty threats that were recorded for use as evidence against him.
Ajmal, 23, was born in Pakistan, lost her mother as a young child and was largely raised in Brooklyn by her Muslim father. She testified she was the only one of his five children to take to Western trappings like social media and to go to college. But in 2009, she said, her father tricked her into visiting Pakistan so the family could force her to marry one of her cousins there.
"He told me I was too Americanized, and I needed to learn my culture," she testified.
Shortly after wedding in a traditional ceremony in 2012, Ajmal asked a man she described as her true love to help her flee. She slipped away and flew to the United States early last year, where she went into hiding but stayed in phone contact with her father.
When Choudhry began threatening to track down the man and kill him unless she returned home and restored the family's honour, she agreed to let federal agents record their phone calls. On tapes played for the jury, he can be heard repeatedly bemoaning the humiliation he felt over her disobedience.
In their culture, sons were free to come and go, he explained. But, he added, "When a daughter runs away, parents are demeaned forever." He warned in another recording, "If you don't come back, there is only death."
Shortly after Ajmal learned that the victims had been gunned down in Pakistan, she called her father and asked, "Have you done this?"
He responded that another person "killed this time and made me part of it." But he also repeated the threat that he would "not leave a single member of their family alive" if she didn't return home.
News of the killings had made him "a man of no honour," he lamented. "My daughters are whores. ... You still have time. Think about it in the next 24 hours."
"What will you do after 24 hours?"
"What else? Another person will be gone."
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