Wael Ali mugshot

Police mugshot of Wael Ali, who has been charged in the death of his twin brother in Columbia in 2007. (Baltimore Sun / September 15, 2011)

When his identical twin brother went missing in 2007, Wael Ali sought to organize a search party in Howard County to hunt for clues. Later, after the discovery of Wasel Ali's body, Wael set up a memorial page on Facebook where he lamented that they'd never spend time together again.

"Nobody deserves to be murdered," Wael said at the time.

On Thursday, Howard County police delivered a twist in the four-year-old case, charging Wael with murdering his brother. Officials in Cobb County, Ga., where Wael Ali had been living recently and where he was taken into custody, say Wasel had been put in a chokehold, crushing his neck.

"This arrest demonstrates that our detectives never give up on a case," Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said in a statement. "Our cold case unit has continued this investigation to ensure that justice would be served in this tragic incident."

The brothers, children of Sudanese and Egyptian parents, moved to the United States when they were five years old, and later graduated from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, where they were active in after-school programs and well liked.

Together, they enlisted in the Army Reserve, and Facebook photos show the pair proudly posing together in their uniforms. Both were discharged from the reserves, however, after being arrested for impersonating military officers and driving a stolen government vehicle, according to a military official.

That appeared to set off a chain of events in the summer of 2007 that ended with Wasel's murder.

In February 2007, according to court records, while driving a stolen Dodge Stratus, the brothers flashed military badges and tried to pull over a man they said was "racing" on a roadway in Columbia.

They pleaded guilty in July of that year to carrying a concealed deadly weapon and were put on probation, and booted from the Army Reserve. A month later, Wasel was confronted by a manager at the Banana Republic store where he worked over the theft of $1,300 worth of clothing, police said.

Wasel signed a statement admitting to the theft, and agreed to return 27 items of clothing and accessories the next day. Police now say that Wasel also implicated his brother in the theft.

Police say surveillance footage shows the brothers together inside the Mall in Columbia, where Wasel worked, but walking in opposite directions and leaving from different ends of the building. Wael Ali is seen getting in his vehicle and driving off, while Wasel leaves the mall on foot.

Wael Ali called a friend 25 minutes later, police say, and was frantic and distraught. He said Wasel had "gone missing" and was crying, and asked friends to help him look for his brother. He told them he had already searched a wooded area behind the 12000 block of Green Meadow Drive, about two miles from the mall.

Five days later, that's where Wasel's body was found. Police said he had been beaten, and an autopsy showed he had suffered a neck injury.

In the days after his disappearance, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time, Wael put out a plea on Facebook for friends to meet at the mall and search for Wasel. He also said the news media had unfairly focused on his brother's criminal past. "The issue should not be his past. It should be what happened to him," he said.

County police posted fliers throughout the Hickory Ridge community announcing a $5,000 reward for tips in the case. They also met with concerned community members, who asked if Wasel's death was random or whether he had been targeted by an individual or group.

"We'd love to come in here and say we've made an arrest," McMahon, the chief, told residents at a community meeting, according to the Howard County Times. "But there are a lot of things that we can't talk about that have made us optimistic. Sometimes these are marathons and not sprints."

Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn wouldn't say Thursday whether Wael was a primary suspect all along, but said that "investigators looked at the people closest to the victim from the start."

On the Facebook page created for Wasel, his brother posted this note: "This is the wierdest [sic] feeling to know that i'll never be able to talk to you again. And even though we werent as close as old times you still ARE my brother, you will forever be missed. But with every passing day we will not remember the fact that your [sic] gone we will remember the times that we spent, the lessons that you taught, the morals that you showed."

Wael had pressed charges in May against a pizza delivery driver after he claimed the man assaulted him in a dispute over a pizza that took more than an hour to deliver. The case is pending in Howard County District Court.

Attempts to interview family and friends were not successful Thursday. A man who answered the door at a Laurel home listed as Wael's address in court records from the assault case said Wael's mother lived in Atlanta, and he declined to identify himself or speak to a reporter.

It's not clear how long Wael had been living in Georgia, but authorities took him into custody at a townhouse northwest of Atlanta.

Howard County police have solved three murders this week, including two killings that occurred over a span of about 24 hours.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com


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