After moving his family from Iraq to Canada, Omeed Al-Muhandis stopped worrying about his children all the time. They now worry about him instead; the chemistry professor moved back to Iraq eight years ago and has since survived two explosions, including a 2012 car bombing that tore open his stomach and throat.
If anyone in his family were to meet a violent end, it would be him, Al-Muhandis always thought. He never dreamed that Alaa, his first-born child, would die at the hands of terrorists.
She was a married mother-of-two who ran a decorating business in Milton. She lived in Canada, the “safest country in the world.” She was only 29.
“I should have gone. Not her,” said a grieving Al-Muhandis in a phone interview from Iraq. “She was still waiting for her big future.”
On Sunday, hundreds of mourners streamed into a Mississauga banquet hall to attend a memorial service for Alaa Al-Muhandis, the only Canadian killed in a New Year’s Day terror attack in Turkey.
The gunman — who remains at large — massacred 39 people inside a popular Istanbul nightclub. Daesh, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has since claimed responsibility for the attack.
Outside the memorial for Alaa, the parking lot was filled to capacity as hundreds of friends, relatives and acquaintances streamed into the banquet hall to mourn, share food and recite the Qur’an. A photo of Al-Muhandis was displayed in the foyer, surrounded by white flowers and roses dyed blue, her favourite colour.
Al-Muhandis was a “bright and nurturing soul” who was always there for friends and family, according to her cousin, Ammar Abdul-Raheem. News of her tragic death has been “shocking to all of us,” he said.
“It has left us, honestly, with emptiness and despair,” he told reporters. “She always brightened every room she was in. She always brought joy to us.”
While the banquet hall was packed with mourners from Toronto’s tight-knit Iraqi community, one notable person was absent — Al-Muhandi’s father. Bad weather conditions have left him stranded in Iraq, where he has spent the last two days at the airport, waiting for a connecting flight through Istanbul.
Al-Muhandis also missed his daughter’s burial, which took place in Mississauga prior to Sunday’s memorial service. “I’m very sad to miss that,” he said. “I wanted actually to bury her myself.”
Al-Muhandis said his daughter was born in 1987 in Iraq, named Alaa after an Arabic word for “goodness” or “blessings.” But she spent only the first few years of her life in the country of her birth.
In 1991, her father decided it was time for them to flee; the Al-Muhandis are Iraqi Turkmen, an ethnic minority that has been persecuted by Iraqi governments. Under Saddam Hussein, Turkmen were subjected to land grabs, job discrimination and ethnic cleansing, and several of Al-Muhandis’ relatives had already fled by the time he decided to leave.
“We faced violence,” Al-Muhandis recalls. “There were clear signs of hate.”
Alaa was only 4 when her family life was uprooted, but even at that age she took care of her two younger brothers, changing their diapers and looking after their meals, according to Al-Muhandis.
“She was looking after them, even alone at home when her mother had to leave to go to the nearby shops,” he said. “She was like a grown-up lady.”
After relocating to Libya for a few years, the family finally settled in Canada in 2001, living first in Toronto before buying a house in Mississauga.
In 2007, Alaa married Asal Ahmed, the owner of a car dealership called Looloo Auto Sales, which he named after his pet nickname for his wife. Al-Muhandis said his daughter and her husband were in “extreme love” and they had two children together, Amir, who’s 6 or 7, and Arwa, 3.
Al-Muhandis said his daughter recently established an event decorating business called Looloo’s Arrangements, and he believes she was recently Travelling in the Middle East to look into business opportunities in Jordan.
He last saw Alaa about six weeks ago when she came to visit him in Iraq, where he now works as a chemistry professor and director of scientific affairs at Kirkuk University.
Al-Muhandis had no idea his daughter had travelled to Turkey until he received the phone call from his brother last week, informing him of Alaa’s death.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was really heartbroken.”
Al-Muhandis said his family is now devastated and he is particularly worried about how his grandchildren will cope with the death of their mother. His other four children are also heavily grieving the loss of their big sister.
Al-Muhandis said he always wanted lots of children, because “in Iraq it’s common to lose kids.” But today, even after moving his family to Canada, his worst fear has been realized.
“She was the first. They were altogether five,” he said. “Now, four remain.”
With files from Sammy Hudes
Source : TheStar