‘I took my head in my hands and thought how has this happened?’: Have-a-go hero who drove into a maniac stabbing his ex-wife in the street gives his first interview after his arrest for suspected murder
The image stays with him, graphic, insistent, horrific. The glint of a steel blade wielded by a knifeman, then three stabs to a woman’s heart as she lay helpless on a London pavement.
As other motorists went on their way along that busy rush-hour road in leafy Maida Vale 12 days ago, Abraham knew he could not simply drive on.
He had to intervene and try to prevent the male assailant from killing his defenceless victim.
For Abraham, 26, talking exclusively to the Daily Mail about the brutal scene that brought an affluent West London street to a shocked standstill just under two weeks ago, there was no moral dilemma.
‘Should you see an evil it is your duty to stop it with your hands,’ he says, reliving the vicious attack in harrowing detail for the first time.
‘If you cannot, then you should stop it by speaking out. So I was thinking: ‘How could I face God if I don’t help? It is my duty, my religion.’ In that moment I knew I had to act.’
Tragic events: Yasmin Chkaifi (pictured) was fatally stabbed by her ex-husband Leon McCaskie in the street
Electrician Abraham, a married father with two children under five, spared no thought for his own safety when he drove his car at the woman’s attacker. His intention was honourable — to stop the man and save the woman’s life — but the unintended consequences were catastrophic.
Unwittingly, Abraham killed the knifeman Leon McCaskie, 41, and his female victim, his ex-wife Yasmin Chkaifi, 43, already fatally stabbed, also died at the scene. He then found himself arrested on suspicion of murder, locked in a police cell and has faced an agonising wait to hear whether he would be charged with murder and sentenced to life in prison.
An outraged public and Ms Chkaifi’s family hailed him a hero and pleaded with police not to charge him. On Tuesday, police announced to his immense relief that no further action was to be taken.
A quietly spoken and respectful young man, he recalls to me the awful dawning realisation of his predicament on that fateful day.
Pictured: Leon McCaskie stabbed his ex-wife in Maida Vale
‘I was in shock. I took my head in my hands and thought, ‘How has this happened?’ I’d tried to save a woman’s life and I’d killed a man.
‘I said a prayer: ‘God forgive me for what I have done’.’
Little did Abraham realise the background behind the tragic scene. Ms Chkaifi, who had told friends she feared her ex-husband would try to kill her after she learnt he had been spying on her, had been ambushed by McCaskie that morning while walking along the pavement.
Abraham, a humble, dark-haired young man, still finds the carnage he witnessed impossible to process.
There is no hint of threat in his demeanour. His words are simple — originally from Chechnya, his English vocabulary is not extensive — but there is no hesitancy or equivocation in his clear account.
He casts his mind back to the morning of January 24, a morning on which, but for the fact he had overslept, he would never have been driving his blue Renault Clio to work so late. He had been carrying out electrical work at a flat in Westminster. Usually he left home at 7am.
Pictured: Police on Chippenham Road, Maida Vale, London after the stabbing
‘I overslept, which I don’t often do and I was on my way at 9am when I heard shouting and screaming. I knew something was wrong,’ he says.
‘The traffic was going very slowly and I saw a man chasing a group of people. I didn’t understand what was happening. Then I saw a woman lying on the pavement and the man had run back and was stabbing her.
‘I saw the steel blade in his hand. I stopped my car by the kerb. None of the other cars had stopped. I was shocked, terrified, but I thought: ‘I have to do something.’
‘I didn’t know if the knifeman had been attacking everyone, or if he had just stabbed the lady lying on the ground. Then I realised the crowd had gathered to try to stop him, but he’d chased them away.
‘Next, I saw the man stab the woman on the floor three times in the chest. I don’t remember blood. My eyes just fixed on the knife, the steel blade.
‘I thought: ‘I cannot go away and leave her.’ I had to help, to try to save her. I did not have time to consider. I thought the safest and quickest option was to push the man away from the woman with my car.’
‘So I put my car into first gear and drove up the kerb and onto the pavement. It was a short distance, ten or 12 ft, and I pushed him, I made an impact. I managed to avoid the woman.
Pictured: The events in Maida Vale and how they unfolded
He continues: ‘Then I took my foot off the gas but my car didn’t stop. The momentum continued and I knew the man was under my car. I opened the door and I saw his hand sticking out from under it. That sight stays with me and always will: the man’s hand sticking out.
‘My car hit a garden wall and stalled and I tried to reverse but the engine wouldn’t turn over. I kept trying to start the car, to free the man, but I couldn’t. I shouted for help. At that stage I could see both the man and the woman were breathing. I looked across at the woman and she was still alive. I felt such relief.
‘By then a couple of men had come and we tried to lift the car but it was too heavy and once I realised we couldn’t free the man I said, ‘We must call the police and ambulance.’
‘It only took two or three minutes for them to arrive and the police and medics rushed to do CPR on the woman and the man.
Pictured: Ms Chkaifi at home in Maida Vale
‘I was in shock. A crowd had gathered and I remember an old man and lady trying to calm me. They said: ‘You did the right thing. You tried to save a woman’s life’.’
But Abraham’s ordeal was only just beginning. It is hard to overstate the escalating sense of dread he felt as the day spiralled into a waking nightmare. When police arrived at the scene, rather than being hailed for his heroism, Abraham was arrested on suspicion of murder.
‘The police were asking, ‘Who is the owner of the blue Renault?’ and they said they wanted to interview me,’ he recalls.
‘I sat in the police car for roughly three hours, trying not to look at the scene. I called my supervisor at work, left a message; told him there had been an accident.
‘The police were respectful and kind to me; I didn’t feel threatened, but at around 1pm they informed me I was under arrest on suspicion of murder. I was terrified. I wasn’t a murderer. I’d just been trying to help save a woman’s life.’
He was duly driven to Charing Cross police station where DNA was taken and the usual formalities were observed: the police read Abraham his rights and offered the services of a duty solicitor free of charge.
Pictured: Car is taken away from crime scene on Chippenham Road Caption: Police on Chippenham Road, Maida Vale, London
His clothes were taken away for analysis and he was given a regulation, prison-issue grey sweatshirt, sweatpants and trainers.
He rang his family, now waiting for his return home with mounting fear, and tried to quell their concerns.
‘I was put in a police cell with a window, a bench and a mattress. They gave me the Koran (the Muslim holy book) and a prayer mat. The police were kind and apologised.
‘They asked me if I wanted to eat, but I’d lost my appetite. I was frightened and when the door shut I felt terrified and very alone.’
Being an observant Muslim, Abraham prays five times a day. He did so in the cell. He does so during our interview, politely excusing himself for a few minutes to kneel and face Mecca. I hear the murmur of the sacred words.
He continues his account: ‘I tried to sleep in the cell, but I couldn’t. I tried to read the Koran but my thoughts wouldn’t focus. I was putting all my faith in God and waiting for His help.’
‘I kept thinking, ‘This is getting more and more serious’. Everyone thinks it’s safe in England but I’d seen this awful violence and now I was under suspicion of murder. I was so worried, thinking about my family, terrified I would go to jail.’
Ms Chkaifi (pictured), who had told friends she feared her ex-husband would try to kill her after she learnt he had been spying on her, had been ambushed by McCaskie that morning while walking along the pavement
There is an awful irony in the fact that Abraham witnessed this carnage in the UK, a country he imagined would be a safe haven, distant from the pervasive violence of his homeland, the Russian Republic of Chechnya.
He and his mother fled their native Chechnya in terror in 2000, when he, an only child, was five years old. His father, a political dissident, had been abducted — never to be seen again — by the country’s brutal regime.
So extreme is Abraham’s fear of reprisals from his homeland, that the Mail has agreed not to identify him.
It was at 9pm that night that Abraham was interviewed by the police, his solicitor and Russian interpreter present, and was given the option of staying silent.
‘But I knew I was innocent so I wanted to speak out,’ he says. ‘I wanted to answer all their questions and explain that I’d only been trying to save someone’s life.’
Duly he did so and it was 1am before he was released on bail. ‘The police had taken my clothes, my phone, my tools; my car. I knew it was a procedure they had to go through, but the stress was terrible.’
He was driven home in a police car where he had to surrender his passport — he had been released on bail until February 23 and could not leave the country. Pictured: The scene in Maida Vale
He was driven home in a police car where he had to surrender his passport — he had been released on bail until February 23 and could not leave the country. He is reticent to speak about his family — who were granted asylum in the UK in 2006 and still live in daily fear of their lives from their home country.
He will only say that he managed to protect his mother from the knowledge of what had happened until he knew he was safe.
But it is a measure of the support that was already gathering for Abraham’s selfless courage on social media, that a petition was set up that very night, hailing him as a hero and calling for him not to face criminal charges.
‘The reassurance made me feel more optimistic,’ he says. ‘But I kept seeing the image of the man’s hand under my car. I still do. I went back to work at once because I knew it would help me to have some kind of routine.’
News of his courage, meanwhile, was spreading. A total of 75,000 signatories added their names to his petition. Members of Ms Chkaifi’s family also applauded his courage.
‘At work, my friends were saying they were going to put out a red carpet for me. They said, ‘Your intentions were good, so don’t feel bad. You’re a hero.’
News of his courage, meanwhile, was spreading. A total of 75,000 signatories added their names to his petition (pictured)
‘But I said, ‘I just did what I had to, what my religion educated me to do.’ I’m nothing special. A simple man. I don’t want people to call me a hero.’
Moreover, his concerns persisted: a man had died — a fact for which he still feels profound regret — and he might be held culpable.
It was a friend who recommended he contact Tasnime Akunjee, a defence lawyer with Brentford-based Waterfords solicitors, who in turn agreed to represent him without charge.
Mr Akunjee offered reassurance: ‘I told him he would not be charged with murder and if he was, I would leave the law because there would be no point in practising any more.’
The cloud of dread finally dispersed on Tuesday this week when Mr Akunjee called Abraham to tell him police had dropped the case and would take no further action.
‘I was fixing a boiler when Tasnime rang with the good news,’ Abraham recalls. ‘He said, ‘They’ve dropped the case’ and I could hardly believe it,’ he smiles. ‘I said a special prayer of thanksgiving.’
Pictured: The scene after the stabbing in Maida Vale
Since that day Abraham, in his unassuming way, has continued to give thanks: to the legions who have publicly supported him; to those who have contributed to a fund set up, both for him and the orphaned children of Ms Chkaifi; to Mr Akunjee, to his friends; to the law that has exonerated him.
He hopes, one day, to meet the family of Ms Chkaifi who have so vociferously championed his actions that one of them assured him he would go to prison instead of Abraham if he was convicted.
But a man’s death remains on his conscience and he feels only compassion for Leon McCaskie’s bereaved family.
It has emerged that McCaskie was wanted by police for breaching a restraining order which Ms Chkaifi, mother to sons aged 16 and 18, had taken against him for stalking her and domestic abuse.
When he failed to appear for his first hearing at court, a warrant was issued for his arrest on January 4, 2022; the fatal stabbing happened less than three weeks later.
‘He died and I never wanted to hurt or kill him,’ Abraham says. ‘I know his family would rather have seen him in prison than dead and I feel sorry for them. My intention was only to protect Yasmin. Her children are orphaned and I would like to meet them one day and try to help them as much as I can.’
For now, however, there are police inquiries to assist and inquests that must be carried out. But on one matter, Abraham is unequivocal: his faith in British justice is unshakeable.
He is grateful, too, that the God in whom he placed his trust did not desert him.
- Additional reporting: EMINE SINMAZ and REBECCA CAMBER
Donate to the GoFundMe here.
See Abraham’s twitter statement here.