ABU DHABI // A young footballer from Morocco who came to the UAE dreaming of a professional sports career found himself cheated out of his family's savings, set on fire and jailed for a murder he did not commit.
Fouad Al Mkaissi was 25 when he arrived in 2006 hoping to catch the eyes of talent scouts of the nation's football clubs. Little could he have known then that within two years he would be financially ruined and witness to a sadistic murder in which a man was burnt alive.
But worse was to come for Mr Al Mkaissi in March 2008 when he was jailed on suspicion of committing the murder with a local conman.
It is only now, after a long court battle culminating in his acquittal yesterday by the Federal Supreme Court, that his story can be told.
His misfortune began with a chance meeting with the conman and murderer Mattar Masoud.
Young and impressionable, it was easy for the young footballer to believe the charismatic Masoud when he promised to help in finding jobs for both him and his friends back home at the farm of a Royal family member.
Masoud wanted just one thing - Dh3,000 for each of the 20 friends for whom he would be arranging jobs. It was, he claimed, a type of warranty that any employer would ask for.
Mr Al Mkaissi gave his life savings and those of his mother, who sold all she owned, to finance the deal, but after paying Masoud and travelling back to Morocco to meet his friends he lost all contact.
It was a year before he could get a visa to fly back to the UAE and demand his money back.
"I knew where his house was so I went to him," he recalled. "He claimed he was sick and told me to wait a few days."
Masoud picked him up and drove him to the border with Oman in Hatta where they met a Syrian man, Tony Jabbour, to whom Masoud owed Dh600,000.
"I heard the Syrian ask him if he had the money, he told him he did," said Mr Al Mkaissi.
The Syrian got in the car and the trio drove into the Omani desert.
"He kept asking where we were going and why so deep in the desert. Masoud said that was what the sheikhs wanted and that we were going to meet them and settle the matter."
Masoud stopped and told Mr Al Mkaissi to stay inside the car while he and the Syrian walked to a rock 30 metres away.
"I waited for 20 minutes then when I looked in their direction I noticed a struggle was going on, and that one was holding the other so I ran to them."
As he approached he realised that the Syrian had been overpowered and was being covered in fuel by Masoud. He was too late to prevent Masoud from throwing the match that set the man on fire.
"I took off my shirt trying to put out the fire, but then he threw some fuel on me and it burnt my face and chest."
Masoud told him to go back to the car and remain silent - or he too would also be burnt alive.The murderer drove him back and locked him inside his house for three days."On the fourth day an old woman opened the door for me and I escaped, " said Mr Al Mkaissi.
He took a taxi and wentfor the Moroccan embassy.
"As we drove off to the beginning of the street I saw a number of cars blocking the road, I thought they belonged to him [Masoud].
"A man in a kandura opened my door so I pushed him away, then they explained they were from state security."
He was arrested then jailed on suspicion of murder. He was released after being acquitted by the Federal First Instance Court, but it took four years for him to clear his name as the case bounced between various appeals courts.
His lawyer, convinced of his innocence, took on his case for free.
The Supreme Court yesterday sentenced Masoud, 56, to either death or to pay Dh2 million blood money to the Syrian's daughter.