Death and Delusion in the Morgue: The Messy Tale of Yemen’s serial killer

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As the relentless heat seared the grounds of Sana’a University in Yemen, the morgue below was frigid. Hidden in the basement, it was empty save for the dead, locked away in their cold steel cabinets. As the world welcomed the new millennium, the morgue was left behind in the past; it was old and grimy, and falling apart from poor funding and poor care. Deep in the old rusty pipes that squeaked and hummed from behind the walls, and in the rancid sewers below, lay the dark secret of its sole custodian; morgue assistant Mohammed Adam Omar.

Omar had previously worked in Kuwait and Jordan, although he was expelled from both countries for reasons that remain unknown to this day. How the 40-something year old (his age was never confirmed and reports varied considerably) came to have this job is itself a controversial question, considering that he was employed as a cleaner and custodian of a cemetery in Sudan, and was semi-literate.  

A self-proclaimed former Sudanese boxing champion, Omar towered menacingly above the female medical students that he had helped in their studies of anatomy and autopsies in the morgue. He would later initially confess to murdering 50 students around the Arab world, which was later reduced to 16 students only in Yemen, until finally he admitted to and was ultimately convicted of killing only two students – likely the most accurate final tally.

Mohamed Adam Omar on his way to trial, circa December 2000

His arrest came after the mother of one of those two victims filed a missing persons report with the police and accused the morgue attendant of abducting her daughter, who was on her way to see Omar when she disappeared.

Twenty years after these murders, a confusing mess of facts remain.

Omar during his trial

Rumors run rampant

The integrity of Arab journalism at the time did not seem able to reach beyond rumors and misinformation. Major publications ran what were essentially unsubstantiated rumors that ranged from the absurd to the macabre such as:

The vile combination of truth, lies and exaggerations posed disturbing questions. How many of these accusations were true? To what extent was he involved? What did he actually do to those students? Were they really only two? Why was the trial so rushed? The misinformation, myth and legends that immediately surrounded the crimes and the criminal make it impossible to know what really happened.

Omar’s trial wasn’t immune to the distortions, which at times reached soap-opera levels of drama. Take for instance, the day of his trial wherein one of his alleged victims – that Omar had confessed to raping and killing with great detail – showed up alive and well in court. 

The fluctuating body count and subsequent recanted confessions were further compounded by a team of German forensic experts that had flown in to aid in the investigation. After examining the morgue and its sewer, they found over 1,000 remains of mostly men. These remains were not logged into the morgue records, although shockingly, they appeared to be over 50 years old.

The media relished these half-truths and whole-lies, and it seems Omar was enamored by the attention.

Dark Delusions of Grandeur 

It seems that Omar took on the role of serial killer with great enthusiasm, and as though straight out of a Hollywood b-movie, he claimed to have been enticed to murder thanks to the beauty of his victims:

“When I see women, and especially beautiful ones, something happens inside me and I can’t resist something pushes me to kill and I even enjoy it,”

as told by Omar to a local Yemeni weekly at the time

He added:

“My motive in killing them was to send them to heaven.”


Although he did feel some guilt and longing for salvation, saying:

“I regret what I did and I want to purify myself by turning to God. Executing me would purify me from my sins.”


A Terrible, Troubled Mind

The media whirlwind that followed Omar’s arrest and trial seems to have obscured or overlooked one simple fact; regardless of the details and death toll, he was clearly a deeply troubled person. He even tried to slit his wrists upon his arrest using his glasses but failed when police officers overpowered him.

The dark seeds of his life seem to have taken root early in his life. By his own account, he witnessed the rape of his mother when he was just 7 years old. To make matters worse, he then witnessed his father murder the rapist, chop up his body, and bury his remains in a cattle ranch.


After the hurried trial that riveted and revolted people around the world, the courts convicted him of the murder of the two Sana’a University Medical Students and he was executed shortly thereafter. The method of his execution was common to Yemen at the time: three shots to the heart as he lay prostrate on the ground.

Omar lies executed

This story is part two of our Arab Crime Series, check out part one here.

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