Seven men have been found guilty of murdering a law student, Aya Hachem, in Blackburn last year after a longstanding feud between two tyre firm owners.
The men were convicted of murder at Preston crown court and a woman, Judy Chapman, was convicted of manslaughter.
Hachem, 19, who was fatally shot from a passing car as she bought groceries near her home in Blackburn on 17 May 2020, was not the intended victim. The bullet was intended for the owner of Quickshine Tyres, Pachah Khan, but the shot missed, hitting the student.
The killing was the result of a feud between two businesses, where resentment escalated into violence. Feroz Suleman, the owner of RI Tyres, and his friend Ayaz Hussain recruited Zamir Raja to assassinate Khan, owner of the rival car wash business Quickshine Tyres.
The rivalry between the businesses had intensified in December 2019 when RI Tyres was subject to an arson attack, which Suleman suspected was the work of Quickshine. By May 2020, relations were so embittered that Suleman began masterminding a plan to murder Khan. He and Hussain enlisted Raja to carry out the shooting, while another man, Anthony Ennis, was recruited as the driver.
On 17 May shots were fired at Quickshine from an Avensis car – with the second bullet striking Hachem, who was walking past the car wash.
After the teenager fell to the ground, passersby tried to help but she died at the scene. CCTV showed Suleman and another accomplice, Kashif Manzoor, watching the shooting from the adjacent car wash.
The eight co-conspirators denied murder but were convicted after a 10-week trial. Raja and Hussain admitted manslaughter mid-trial but this plea was rejected by the CPS.
Chapman, who drove the gunman and driver from Bolton to Blackburn and collected them afterwards, was found guilty of Aya’s manslaughter but not guilty of the attempted murder of Pacha Khan.
The other men convicted are Abubakr Satia, 32, Kashif Manzoor, 26 and Uthman Satia, 29.
Each had different roles in the planning of the attack, including hiring the hitman, sourcing and purchasing a car to transport the shooter, and buying petrol to burn the car with.
A reconnaissance mission to map out the route to take before and after the shooting was carried out and those with key roles had various meetings prior to the day.
Police launched a major investigation known as Operation Colindale and in the following days and weeks, 23 people were arrested in connection with the shooting and assisting those involved. Warrants were issue at various addresses in Lancashire, Manchester and the West Midlands.
The investigation took investigators to Glasgow, Dublin and London, as well as Spain and Portugal during an international manhunt to locate Raja and Ennis, who had fled the country.
Alan Richardson, the senior crown prosecutor, said each of those convicted were in their own way responsible for the “senseless killing of Aya Hachem – an innocent young woman full of promise who lost her life as a result of a petty business rivalry.
“The ruthlessness of everyone involved is staggering, with the group going to extreme lengths to plan an assassination in broad daylight – risking the lives of members of the public going about their daily business,” he said. “Even when the wrong target was hit, they refused to display any guilt or remorse and denied involvement in this devastating murder.
“We would like to thank the police for their meticulous work on this case. Together, the CPS and police were able to build a strong case against each of them by detailed forensic analysis of many hours of CCTV and telephone evidence.
“Today our thoughts are with Aya Hachem’s loved ones and we hope they feel justice has now been served.”
The senior investigating officer, DCI Zoe Russo from Lancashire’s Force Major Investigation Team, said: “I am pleased with today’s result, which is the conclusion of months of meticulous and challenging police work. Throughout this incredibly long and complex investigation, our focus was always clear: to find the people involved so we could get justice for Aya.
“With that, my thanks goes to each and every police officer and member of police staff who dedicated many hours, skill and expertise to track the people involved down and build a case so strong that, along with the excellent work by CPS and counsel, helped the jury reach their guilty verdicts.’’
Aya’s family paid tribute: “We thank God for the justice that has been served today … You will remain in our hearts for ever. You loved life and despite all the struggles and barriers that we faced in this country, it did not stop you contributing to your community and charities including the Children’s Society, and fundraising at Salford University where you were studying to become a barrister.”
The family thanked Russo and her team who, they said, “worked so hard to build a strong case”. They also thanked the prosecution counsel Nicholas Johnson QC, and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The seven men will be sentenced on 5 August. Chapman will be sentenced at a date to be confirmed in October.