MONTREAL — A former work colleague of a Montreal woman who was killed along with her children by her estranged spouse in December 2019 told an inquiry Wednesday that he was following her despite a court order forbidding contact.
"He was stalking her," Najla Ben Ammar told the inquiry looking into the December 2019 killings of Dahia Khellaf, 42, and her sons, Adam, 4, and Aksil, 2.
Police say the three were strangled by Nabil Yssaad, 46, who took his own life by jumping from a hospital window a day before the bodies were found in the couple's home in eastern Montreal.
She said Khellaf had given examples of Yssaad's presence — her vehicle was cleared of snow every morning, she would see him in the alleyways near her home and he would walk past the glassed bank branch where Khellaf worked to see if she was present.
Ben Ammar said the couple had split in the months before the killings, and the fate of the children was top of mind. Khellaf wanted full custody while Yssaad wanted joint custody. She said Yssaad was convinced Khellaf was seeing someone else.
Ben Ammar said that on the last day Khellaf was seen alive, she told her that "the war had begun" between her and her husband over their children, whom he feared he would never see again as divorce loomed.
"She was always worried because he was someone who was not stable," Ben Ammar said, adding Khellaf was nervous the last day she was seen alive. On that day, Khellaf walked by Ben Ammar's office and made a strangling motion, putting her hand on her throat. Ben Ammar told the inquiry she told Khellaf she would talk to her that night over the phone.
The call never took place and Khellaf did not show up to work the next day. Ben Ammar called her multiple times and later learned about the deaths on the news.
The inquiry heard Wednesday that Khellaf had sought help for her marital problems through her employer's assistance program, but refused to answer questions from a social worker and wanted to speak with a psychologist.
In August 2018, Khellaf had filed a police complaint against Yssaad stemming from two alleged domestic violence incidents that month, leading to charges against him of assault and assault with a weapon.
But two court social workers who met with Khellaf noted she wanted to get her husband assessed and treated for his mental health issues and did not want to testify at an eventual trial.
A prosecutor told the inquest Tuesday that because Khellaf did not want to testify, the Crown's only option was to secure a peace bond requiring Yssaad to stay away from his wife.
Five days after that document was signed and the charges were dropped, police say Khellaf and her sons were strangled to death in the family home.
The following day, Dec. 10, Yssaad stole his wife's vehicle and travelled to Joliette, Que. where he took his own life.
Police went to the family home later that same day in an effort to confirm Yssaad's identity, but there was no answer. Officers only found the bodies of the three victims the next morning.
Coroner Andrée Kronström is presiding over the inquiry, which is being heard in Joliette, Que.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press