The heartbroken best friend of an ‘angel’ law graduate ambushed and beaten to death in an ‘opportunist stranger attack’ today revealed their final texts less than 36 hours before her murder.
Zara Aleena, 35, died from severe head injuries after she was followed and attacked in the street while walking to her mother’s house in Cranbrook Road, Ilford, after a night out with friends in central London in the early hours of Sunday.
Her death has left her family heartbroken and sparked a manhunt that ended yesterday afternoon in the arrest of a 29-year-old man from the area on suspicion of her murder. He remains in custody today.
Her close friend Lisa has revealed that they were meant to be together over the weekend – but they had rearranged to meet next weekend. Zara had texted on Friday to say: ‘Miss your beautiful face this weekend xx can’t wait to see you next weekend xxx’.
Lisa said today: ‘I am completely broken. My bestest friend (for the past 17 years) Zara Aleena was murdered by a complete stranger. I am shocked. I am angry. I feel sick to my stomach . We spent most weekends together. We were meant to be together this weekend but I had to cancel and arranged to meet next weekend. I wish I had met her this weekend. She got f***ing murdered walking home’.
In a poignant Facebook post she described her grief at not seeing her again or hearing her voice, adding: ‘To the man that murdered Zara may he get tortured in prison. I want to look him in the eye and ask why???!!!! Justice for Zara Aleena. When will our streets be safe? Something needs to be done! Something must be done. Now you rest in peace beautiful angel’.
Police were handed CCTV of the attack by a resident who lived across the street. He told The Times: ‘The guy came from the back, he was following her. It happened on the main road. He punched her a few times.’ Investigators believe the perpetrator did not use any weapons, just his fists.
Aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena, 35, was murdered in the early hours of Sunday morning in Ilford, East London. A 29-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of her murder
This is the last exchange Zara’s closest friend had with her on Friday. On Sunday morning she was murdered
The road where Zara was found with horrific injuries was just a short distance from Gants Hill Station
Zara’s death is the latest murder of a woman walking alone in London after the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard
The Met have closed the road and put a cordon in place at the scene while urging women to be ‘alert’ but not ‘alarmed’ by the attack
The unprovoked attack on Miss Aleena is already being compared to the murders of teacher Sabina Nessa, 28, and marketing manager Sarah Everard, 33, who were both attacked while out alone in London. Both their killers were opportunistic and chose them at random.
Miss Aleena’s friend Nadia, 42, a school teacher, said: ‘She just decided to walk home because it was close by.. nothing like that has ever happened here.
‘She wanted to borrow some heels and some mascara from me that night, but I couldn’t answer my phone as I was busy. She was a gentle soul, she wouldn’t hurt a fly. She just passed her law degree and was working in central London. She wanted to become a lawyer so she could provide for herself and her family’.
Detectives were last night questioning a 29-year-old man arrested on suspicion of murdering the University of Westminster graduate.
Miss Aleena’s cousin described her as a ‘bubbly, high-empathy person’ and said the family were devastated.
Friends recalled her excitement as she asked to borrow high heels and mascara for a night out that ended in tragedy.
Miss Aleena had been working at the Royal Courts of Justice as an administration officer while she sought a trainee solicitor role that would allow her to embark on a legal career, said her cousin, who asked not to be named.
‘She was a lovely person,’ he added. ‘It’s such a shock for the family. She wanted to become a lawyer, to make a success of herself so she could support the family.
‘She was always bubbly, brought life to the room, a warm, high-empathy person. She looked after her mum and her gran and was a very family-oriented person.’
Scotland Yard said Miss Aleena was found badly beaten at about 2.44am not far from her home in Ilford, north-east London. Paramedics took her to hospital but she died of her injuries shortly afterwards.
People living nearby said there was a helicopter hovering over the area from 3am as police hunted for Miss Aleena’s killer.
Mustafa Meric, 56, said his son’s friend lived opposite and his CCTV had captured footage – which he had passed to the police – of the attack.
‘It is not the safest of areas,’ he added. ‘I fear for my wife and kids. I’ve told them to stop [going out late] for now.’
Chief Superintendent Stuart Bell, of Scotland Yard, said ‘it is now believed that she was the victim of an opportunist stranger attack’ and there was no evidence that weapons had been used.
‘Tackling violence against women and girls is an absolute priority for the Met. Every day our officers are working with partners across the capital to improve safety in our public spaces,’ he added.
‘Women should not have to change their behaviour and should be able to go about their business, feeling safe, any time of day or night. It’s our job to ensure that happens – but officers cannot be in all places at all times. I would urge our community, especially women, to report any suspicious or unwanted behaviour and seek help if you feel threatened.’
Miss Aleena’s LinkedIn page says she graduated with a law degree from the University of Westminster in October last year.
She had been working at the Royal Courts of Justice since May but was seeking a paralegal or trainee solicitor position.
The Labour MP for Ilford South, Sam Tarry, said: ‘It looks like, on the face of it, a random attack. This is something out of the ordinary. The Met and local authority are moving heaven and earth to ensure people’s safety and put the perpetrator behind bars.
‘We will do everything to remember this woman who lost her life in the most horrendous way.’
Police continue to work in Cranbrook Road, Redbridge, after Zara Aleena was murdered on Sunday morning
The Met Police have launched a murder probe into the death of the victim who was found with serious head injuries in Redbridge, Ilford this morning. Pictured: The cordon and forensics at the scene
She was attacked while walking along Cranbrook Road in the direction of Gants Hill Station and the high street. Pictured: Police talk to a driver as they close the road
He added: ‘We want our community to be free of fear and go about their daily business.
‘People do need to be reassured – there will be a flood of police on the streets. I don’t think people should be bowed or cowed into fear, but of course people are going to be scared.
‘I would say to people, check your cameras, your dashcams, any small clue could help.’
Rafia Ahmed, who lives nearby, said she and her friends will now only walk in groups at night.
‘Because it’s literally on our doorstep it scares you. As a female you think twice about going out by yourself’, she told the BBC.
Shopkeeper Kuldip Singh said he was concerned by the level of violence in the area.
He said: ‘This one was quite brutal. It was a young lady but people don’t really feel safe in this location as much as they used to.
‘If I was an elderly person or a female, especially in the winter months, walking through this road you could be at risk.’
Subhash, 60, who lives just off Cranbrook Road, said he ‘worries’ for other local women. He said: ‘It’s not just my daughter, it’s other daughters, other girls, other women in the area. It’s quite a serious matter, how safe are you in your own area.’