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Tension over Libyan civil war lands man in Maltese court

Attempted murder charge eventually ends up as self-defence

A Libyan man was on Friday cleared of injuring a fellow countryman from a rival faction, after the court heard that he had been attacked first.

One January morning in 2016, Wadea Al Maghrbi, 29, had barged into the Swieqi home of 34-year-old Zouhir Elfezqa, 34, accompanied by 24-year-old Mohammed Abdul Hafid Abukem.

The two were let in by Mr Elfezqa’s flat mate, Mohammed Arara, who had been sleeping on a couch in the living room.

The two intruders, allegedly smelling of alcohol, were each armed with a knife and Mr Al Maghrbi was also carrying a metal pipe. They broke into Mr Elfezqa’s bedroom and a violent struggle ensued, in the course of which Mr Al-Maghrbi was critically stabbed.

Mr Arara had rushed to the St Julian’s police station to report the aggression.

Mr Elfezqa testified that he had been attacked by the victim, first being hit with a metal rod on the chin while his alleged assailant accused “his people” of having taken Mr Al-Maghrbi’s brother in Libya.

In a dramatic account of the fight, the accused recalled how he had wrestled with Mr Al Maghrbi in an attempt to push him away when the latter had pulled out a knife. The two had wrestled for control of the weapon and fallen to the ground. He had pushed Mr Al Maghrbi, the accused had told the court.

“He was going to stab me. I wanted to protect myself. I thought I was going to die ... I had been hit in the head and in the leg and he was drunk,” he had testified.

When handing down judgment on Friday morning, the court observed that from the very start, the accused had claimed to have acted in legitimate self-defence, further noting that the initial charge of attempted murder had been withdrawn, leaving the charge of grievous injuries.

On the basis of all evidence put forward, the court observed that the accused’s version was “more credible and realistic”, also corroborated by that of his flat mate who had been an eyewitness of the whole episode.

The alleged victim and his companion had entered the apartment where the accused and his friend had been sleeping, not stopping at the door as alleged, but proceeding inside as evidenced by the blood stains in the living room.

Moreover, the accused was asleep at the time and could not have provoked the argument which sparked off the fight. The injuries suffered by Mr Elfezqa were compatible with his version of the fight.

Faced with a danger that was “real, instantaneous and absolute”, the accused had been trying to ward off “an imminent threat to his life,” concluded magistrate Josette Demicoli, upholding the plea of legitimate self-defence and clearing the man of all criminal liability.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Alfred Abela were defence counsel.

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