Foto: Christoffer Hjalmarsson
 Foto: Christoffer Hjalmarsson

When the blood feud came to Borås

Publicerad

SWEDEN-ALBANIA.On New Year's Eve, 12-year-old Arben was shot in Borås.The undocumented boy is a victim of a blood feud that began in Albania fourteen years earlier. The family is hiding in Sweden to avoid being deported to a country in which their lives are at risk.

It's just before 5 pm on New Year's Eve. You can already hear fireworks going off around the town.

Arben and his cousin are walking towards the family's hideout in Borås. The boys are heading towards a tunnel near the Boda Church bus stop, when the 13-year-old cousin screams, "Run! He wants to shoot you!"

A man with a gun has caught up with them and is aiming his gun at Arben, the taller of the two boys. Arben runs towards Boda Church. While running he feels something metal slice into his back. He falls down mid flight. His attacker approaches, but the gun gets stuck. Arben's cousin throws himself at the shooter, a bearded man in his mid twenties wearing a hi-vis vest. In the scramble, he wrestles with the gun above his head so the magazine falls out.

Arben manages to get to his feet and is standing face to face with his attacker."Do you want my mobile?" asks Arben."Yes," he replies.

Arben watches the man run off and throw away the phone. But he's soon back again. The attack is not over.

Arben is found near the church at 4.45 pm. He is rushed to the hospital in Borås with life threatening injuries, and then on to Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg.

The attempted murder is big television news. Even the Borås Tidning, Expressen, Aftonbladet and Svenska Dagbladet newspapers, as well as news agency TT, report on the incident.

The attempted murder receives even more attention in Arben's native country Albania. National newspaper the Gazeta Shqiptare and television channel News24 interview Arben's relatives, and even the man being accused of having ordered the hit.

 

A long strip of surgical tape covers his stomach wound. Arben Tafili, now 13, lifts up his shirt and shows the scar across his stomach. His insides were torn to shreds by the three bullets, injuring his liver, lung, kidney, gall bladder and intestines. But that wasn’t enough,after having thrown his phone away, the attacker came back with a knife in his hand to finish him off.

"I couldn't run. I was in too much pain. I tried to hide behind some bushes, but he came and stabbed me in the neck, on my left side," says Arben, showing the wound on his neck.

"I thought I was going to die. But I tried to fight."

In the patient records at the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital, the doctor writes that the boy had "multiple lacerations" to the throat and chest wall. Arben Tafili spent six weeks in hospital but survived.

 

 

It is April 2014. Just over three months have passed since the attempted murder. We have arranged to meet the Tafili family somewhere in western Sweden. They don't want us to come to them. They are scared to reveal their hideout, plus the fact they still don't know if they can trust us.

Ten years on the run in Europe - three of them as asylum seekers and then hiding in Sweden without documentation - has had an effect.

"What are our children guilty of? They don't even know what blood feud is," says Arben's father.

 

 

The ageing red Mercedes bumps along the country roads in northern Albania. We are on our way to the town of Shkoder in northern Albania. The region is surrounded by snow capped alpine peaks. This is where the Tafili family used to live, before they fled Albania and eventually sought asylum in Sweden in 2011.

At the wheel is Zef Dani, a chain-smoking older uncle with deep furrows in his face. He is a well-respected and well-connected person in the town. Zef Dani knows pretty much everything there is to know about the area's ongoing blood feuds, as he has been involved in trying to end them, and often mediates between the disputing families.

 

 

When we ask Zef Dani to take us to the house where the Tafili family lived, he refuses.

"I won't drive you there. It’s too dangerous."

As a mediator, Zef Dani knows the risks associated with blood feuds. He also knows from personal experience, as his brother was murdered in 1998. Instead of avenging the blood he made a difficult decision - to forgive.

"There is more honour in forgiveness," he says.

Several international reports have revealed that blood feuds are becoming more commonplace, and both the EU and the UN have demanded that Albania submit an action plan to end the feuds. There are no reliable statistics of the death tolls, but a recurring figure is around 3,000 murders - since 1991. That was when feuds increased dramatically again, after the fall of the brutal communist regime. The judicial system didn't work, corruption grew and conflicts arose over previously nationalised assets. People took the law into their own hands and invoked the Kanun, traditional customs that were codified as early as the 15th century.

 

 

Many Albanians feel that the Kanun has a lot of advantages. One of the most significant articles is "besa", which means honour, and it states that an Albanian should treat guests with respect in his/her home, even if they are their enemies. Besa is so firmly established that during the Second World War, Albanians saved between 600 and 1,800 Jews from the Nazis, because they promised them protection. The most controversial chapter in the Kanun refers to blood feuds, gjakmarrje, which according to the custom entitles a family to commit murder if someone in the family is deeply insulted or killed. The victim's family then has two choices, according to the ancient custom, to reclaim their honour. To retaliate and initiate a blood feud that can last for generations. Or to forgive. Particularly in northern Albania, the traditional laws are still followed by part of the population. A government investigation has charted hundreds of families in feuds in Shkoder to date, of which 20 of them live in isolation, according to Albi Serani, a spokesperson for the Prosecutor General in Albania. But Luan Harusha, Mayor of the Rrethina district of Shkoder, where the Tafili family's enemies are from, claim that as many as 80 families with children are living in isolation out of fear of revenge.

"The children dare not go to school. They cannot play outside like other kids. There have been occasions, when we have arrived with food, in which some children didn't know what apples or oranges were. They don't recognise the fruits because nobody in the family can work because of the feud and they have never seen fruit," says Luan Harusha.

He is well acquainted with the Tafili family's blood feud. The conflict began in August 2000, when Admir Tafili's father, who was accused of murder in a fishing conflict, was shot to death near his home in a police shoot out. In charge of the mission was Prel Pjetrushi, Chief Inspector for the area at that time. During the shoot out, the Chief of Police was killed, for which Admir's father and brother were blamed. The Tafili family have accused Pjetrushi for intentionally shooting the father, after he had surrendered with his hands in the air. However, an investigation was never launched to determine which police officer shot the father.

 

 

A few months later, Admir Tafili saw his target. He was ready to exact revenge. Over the years, the feud has received a lot of attention in the Albanian media. After the attempted murder of 12-year-old Arben Tafili, the Prel Pjetrushi family was interviewed in a nationwide News24, an Albanian television news programme, and in the Gazeta Shquiptare newspaper. He explained that his family had nothing to do with the event in Borås on New Year's Eve.

"I wish to publicly say that members of my family would never travel to Sweden to shoot women and children," he said via Skype from overseas, where he now lives with his family. Journalist Klodiana Lala from the Gazeta Shqipare newspaper interviewed both of the feuding families.

"There are blood feuds that cannot be ended with reconciliation. This is one of them. The conflict is an open wound and must be treated with the utmost respect. You have to take into account the Albanian mentality, and not see it from a Swedish perspective."

 

 

After being frisked twice and passing through a metal detector, we are let into a visiting room at '302', a high security prison in Tirana.We are here to visit double murderer Admir Tafili, Arben Tafili's uncle who is serving life for double murder and attempted murder. He gives a detailed account of the blood feud that began in 2000, which had consequences for his 12-year-old nephew in Borås.  He returned from Switzerland straight after hearing the news of the family tragedy. The father was shot to death and the brother was imprisoned for accessory to murder of the Chief Inspector. But Prel Pjetrushi who, according to the Tafili family, murdered the father was promoted to Chief of Police. "I couldn't accept the fact that my father's murderer could get away with it," says Admir Tafili in the visiting room. He wrote letters to politicians and authorities, demanding an investigation of the police and in particular Pjetrushi. No one reacted. In December he wanted revenge, in accordance with the Kanun.

"I fired 60 shots at Prel Pjetrushi," he says. Nine bullets hit him. But miraculously the Chief of Police survived. A few months later, a bomb went off outside his window. He sustained shrapnel injuries and couldn't see for several months. Also inside his home were his pregnant wife, his children, his mother and several other family members, all of whom are now hiding in Sweden. After the attempted murder, the Chief of Police moved overseas, to the US according to sources. In the summer of 2011, both Admir Tafili and his imprisoned brother managed to get leave of absence to visit their sick mother. At the same time, they also found out that the Chief of Police had returned to Albania for a holiday. Admir Tafili never returned from his leave of absence. He called Prel Pjetrushi and demanded he told the truth. Otherwise he would kill the oldest of his brothers. According to Admir Tafili the Chief of Police refused. So he killed two of the brothers.

"The younger brother raised a gun when I stood in front of his car. I shot him with my gun first. Before he could shoot. Then I shot the other one."

He says it was a mistake to shoot the younger brother.

"Both of them died for their brother's mistake. Leaving justice to the government wasn't an option. I have used the Kanun because I tried to get the government to help me. The government did nothing. If there was an efficient judicial system in Albania, the Kanun wouldn't be necessary. Guilty people would be convicted and that would be that. What's happening now is catastrophic," says Admir Tafili.

 

 

A month before the attempted murder of his nephew in Borås, Admir Tafili manages to smuggle two pistols and four AK-47s into his cell. He used them to force his way out. According to him, he escaped because the Pjetrushi family had tracked down the family's hideout in Sweden and hired a hit man.

"I told the authorities in Albania about the contract. But my nephew could still be shot," he says. Tafili's freedom was short lived. He was soon arrested.

"How did I smuggle in all those weapons? This is Albania! If I can smuggle six weapons into prison, tell me how the government of Albania could protect my family with them out there?"

 

 

Eventually we make contact with Prel Pjetrushi via Facebook. Once again he denies his involvement in the attempted murder of the boy.

"Admir Tafili was a wanted criminal after he had wounded me and murdered my brother. He and his family accuse me of everything. Admir Tafili is in a blood feud with four families for murders his father committed."

When I write that the Tafili family fears for their lives because of the blood feud, if they return to Albania, he writes, "We are not a criminal family like the Tafili family."He refuses to respond on the question of reconciliation.

 

 

Almost all asylum applications from Albania due to blood feud are rejected from the Swedish Migration Board in the first instance and then from the Migration Court. The Swedish Migration Board's basic position is that protection from blood feuds is the responsibility of the native country's government. This is despite a 2013 report from the Board that established that the number of feuds had increased during the 1990s. In Sweden, the Tafili family are hiding with the help of Swedish families that understand their situation.The family says that they risk being killed if they return to Albania. Nevertheless, the courts have ordered everyone in the family to be deported. For the time being, the deportation has only been delayed for Arben, his parents and two siblings.

Two families with almost identical backgrounds have, however, been granted residency.

"It's despicable to be honest. I am rarely presented with such substantial material. I have considered every single little gap, but I've been steamrollered," says the family's lawyer, Fredrik Almer.

 

 

When we meet, the family appeals to the Migration Court to reassess their case, and to understand the gravity of blood feuds. And not just assume that the Albanian authorities will be able to protect them.

Arben and the cousin that saved him on New Year's Eve are now living at separate addresses. They only dare go outside during the daytime, accompanied by adults, for fear of the shooter returning.Arben's eyes are constantly on the look out for that face.

"I don't know if someone will shoot me again," he says.

When he does go outside, he only speaks Swedish, to avoid questions about his past that could identify him.The police investigation into the attempted murder is at a stand still. The police say that they are following up several leads, one of which is a blood feud.

"Cases like this are very difficult," says Thomas Ahlstrand, Deputy Chief of the International Public Prosecution Office in Gothenburg, who is in charge of the investigation.

According to Admir Tafili, the attacker is in Albania. Sources in Sweden say that someone with roots in Shkoder has been identified as the shooter in police interrogations.

Going back there would be like waiting for a death sentence, according to Arben's father, grandmother and other family members, who are planning on staying hidden in Sweden.

Regional Councillor Luan Harusha says candidly that they cannot return to Shkoder. "I cannot guarantee their safety. Nor can the Prime Minister. We would need a police officer at every house. Around the clock."

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