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‘Everyone knows me now as associated with these murders’: Palani victim feels depressed, betrayed and, above all, angry

Yousef Palani murdered Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee, blinded Anthony Burke in one eye in a knife attack and devastated countless lives in his April 2022 spree

Eighteen months after being nearly killed in a knife attack by Yousef Palani, Anthony Burke looks physically fine.

Doctors were unable to save his eye and he will require more surgeries in the coming years. But the prosthetic they fitted looks realistic enough and he has been able to return to work as a bartender and hotel porter.

But after talking to Burke for a few minutes it becomes clear he is not okay. He feels depressed, betrayed and, above all, angry.

He’s angry at Palani of course. But also at the gardaí who investigated the case and the lawyers who brought it to court.


The only people he has warm words for are the people of his native Sligo town. “Sligo has been very sympathetic. There’s great support,” he says.

An online fundraiser set up after the attack raised thousands for his medical care. Still, there are some people who stop and stare at him in the street and he’s nervous in big crowds. As we talk he leans forward to make sure someone sitting nearby can’t hear what is being said.

As well as leaving him emotionally and physically damaged, the nature of the attack forced Burke to come out as gay. For decades the 50-year-old had kept his sexuality a secret and he would have preferred it to stay that way. “I’m always conscious that everyone knows me now as gay and associated with these murders.”

Burke’s life changed forever in early April last year when he got chatting to a young man on the gay dating app Grindr. The man suggested they move the conversation to another app called Kik, an instant messenger which allows users to communicate anonymously.

Burke takes out his phone and pulls up the app before scrolling down to the name “Joe King”.

“That’s him, that’s Palani.” Beside the name is a photo of a man’s muscular chest. The face is not visible.

On April 7th they arranged to meet and that evening Palani cycled his mountain bike to Burke’s house, about 10 minutes from his own. Before leaving he told his parents he was going to the mosque to pray.

Burke asked Palani about his interests and he responded he was into tying people up. When he produced a length of rope from his pocket Burke became wary and decided to get the young man out of his house as quickly as possible. Palani finally left just after midnight.

The next day, Palani contacted Burke and again spoke of his desire to tie him up. Burke had no interest in this but it was agreed Palani could visit again that evening.

When he arrived at his home, Burke suggested Palani take off his jacket but he declined. Unbeknown to Burke at the time, the jacket was concealing a large kitchen knife.

The two engaged in sexual foreplay. Burke did not want to take it any further and when Palani returned to the subject of tying him up he tried to get him to leave.

Burke finally convinced him to leave in the early hours of the morning. He walked with Palani for a while “to get him away from my area” before turning to go home.

At this point Palani cycled towards Burke and plunged the knife into his left eye, the blade stopping just short of his brain.

Burke “saw stars” but managed to ask his attacker: “Why?” Palani looked at him for a few moments before cycling away. Burke managed to call 999 before passing out.

The next morning Burke underwent surgery while gardaí forensically examined his house and his phone. They knew they were looking for a man with a Middle Eastern complexion who spoke with a broad Sligo accent who lived nearby. But, despite the extensive communications on Burke’s phone they had no name.

When Burke was released from hospital a short time later he locked himself in his home and carried a stick around. He was so afraid the attacker would return that visitors had to speak to him through the letterbox.

On the night of Monday, April 11th, gardaí called to his home. “Anthony, I’m sorry, there’s a man dead,” a garda said. Burke knew exactly who the victim was. Before attacking Anthony, Palani had told him about the other people he had been chatting with on the app. One of those men was Aidan Moffitt, a well-liked financial consultant who lived in Sligo town, and the name had stuck in Burke’s mind.

On the weekend of April 9th, 2022, Aidan Moffitt was in great form. The 41-year-old just had a particularly good week with his company, a financial services firm, and was looking forward to celebrating with loved ones.

The next day he met friends in the Village Inn in Sligo during the early afternoon before arriving home to Cartron Heights, where he lived alone, at about 4.30pm. A few minutes later a man wearing a hooded jacket was seen arriving at the house. An hour after that the same man was caught on CCTV leaving the area on a mountain bike.

Precisely what happened in that hour remains unknown. What is known is that the next day when Moffitt’s friends, concerned he was not answering his phone, let themselves into his house they were greeted with a scene of absolute horror.

The bedroom door was slightly ajar and inside was Moffitt’s body lying in a large pool of blood. His wrists were tied and a knife had been placed in one of his hands. On the bed, beside a bottle of bleach, was his decapitated head, positioned to face the door.

At this point, gardaí knew they were dealing with an active killer who in all likelihood was targeting gay men. The investigation became a race against time to find Palani before he killed again. At the very least gardaí had to warn the town’s gay community of the danger.

A press release was put out explaining how gardaí had discovered a body in “unexplained circumstances” which had “received significant physical injuries”.

Gardaí said it appeared the victim had met his attacker online and appealed to the public to be careful when talking to people on the internet. The press release said the matter was being investigated as a possible hate crime and it was quickly reported across various media outlets that gay men were being targeted.

At this time, gardaí also realised that Anthony Burke was possibly their best hope of catching Palani.

After gardaí appeared at his door on that Monday night, Burke sat down with them and went through the Grindr app, looking for gay men in Sligo who might be Palani’s next victim.

For the next few hours, with his bandaged eye giving him tremendous pain, Burke travelled in a convoy of eight or nine cars alongside heavily armed gardaí, visiting the homes of gay men in the town to make sure they were safe.

When they arrived at a house, Burke’s job was to impress upon the men the potential danger posed by Palani.

“Some houses were right and some were wrong,” he recalls. Social media footage appeared online of armed gardaí raiding one house and dragging out a potential suspect. It turned out to be an incorrect address.

In a handful of cases gardaí visited the homes of men who were not publicly gay, potentially outing them to their family and neighbours. “If there’s a killer on the loose, what else could you do,” says Burke.

While travelling around Sligo, Burke also had the Grindr app open on his phone. It has a feature which shows how far away potential matches are, without displaying their exact location. At one point it told him Palani was 500m away. But, because it did not specify the direction, there was little gardaí could do in the moment.

After several hours it was getting late and gardaí brought Burke to a hotel where he was to stay for his own safety while they continued the hunt.

Later that day, two of Michael Snee’s nieces decided to visit him to make sure he was aware of the garda warnings which had been dominating the news. Snee, a 58-year old hospital porter and carer at St John’s Hospital, lived alone with his dog on Connaughton Road. A talented Irish dancer in his youth, he was well known in the area for helping neighbours, particularly the elderly.

The two girls found the body of their uncle in the bedroom in a pool of bleach and blood. One of the girls was on the phone to her mother who heard her scream as they found the body. Snee had 38 wounds which a postmortem later determined had been inflicted when he was alive. On the bed were two knives, arranged in the shape of a cross. A picture frame had been placed over the victim’s head.

At this time, gardaí had obtained a photograph of Palani which they were showing to Sligo residents, particularly those with a Middle Eastern background who might recognise him. In court later Detective Garda Conor Jordan would praise the town’s Muslim and immigrant community for their extensive assistance.

Eventually, one man recognised the person in the photo as Palani and was able to direct gardaí to his home in Markievicz Heights. Palani lived in the house with his parents and most of his seven siblings. The family were ethnic Kurds who had fled Iraq sometime after the fall of Saddam Hussein. After spending time in several refugee camps they arrived in Ireland under a resettlement programme when Palani was six years old.

In planning the arrest, the Armed Response Unit (ASU) prepared for the possibility Palani might be armed and would not go quietly. They evacuated the neighbours’ houses before entering the Palani home just before 2am on the morning of April 13th. The suspect surrendered peacefully and was taken to Sligo Garda station.

Initially, he denied any knowledge of the murders but said he suffered from depression. “I’ve been out of it for six years,” he told interviewers.

Asked by gardaí why he appeared so relaxed, he replied: “I’m relaxed because I have nothing to do with it.”

By the time of his third interview, Palani realised the evidence against him was undeniable. He made “full and frank” admissions, the court heard, and went into graphic detail about the murders. He claimed he was hearing voices which told him to attack the men.

He repeatedly insisted to gardaí he is not gay and said homosexuality is a sin under Islam. Asked how he chose his victims, he responded they had to be Irish and to live alone in their own home. “No kids or women,” he added.

The mandatory sentence for murder in Ireland is life imprisonment. Judges have no discretion, meaning even when the evidence is stacked against them, a murder accused will typically plead not guilty. “If you’re getting life either way, you may as well spin the wheel,” said one barrister.

At first, it seemed that was exactly what Palani was planning. Despite his confessions and a mountain of forensic and digital evidence, he indicated he was going to plead not guilty.

His only hope was to try an insanity defence by claiming he had no control over his actions and that the voices made him do it. Various psychiatric tests were conducted and he spent a brief assessment period in the Central Mental Hospital.

But insanity cases are difficult to prove and the result was not good news for the defence. Palani may be depressed. He may be damaged. He may even be a sadist. But in the eyes of the law he was not insane, the experts said. With the insanity plea a non-starter, there was no wheel to spin. Palani replaced his legal team and changed his plea to guilty.

He did receive one small benefit from taking a guilty plea. Instead of being sentenced for the attempted murder of Burke, as originally indicated by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Palani’s plea would be accepted to the lesser charge of causing serious harm.

For Burke, who was not consulted about the change, this was a massive betrayal. “It wasn’t a serious assault. It was attempted murder,” he says.

By accepting a plea to assault, Burke feels the State is characterising the attack on him “as a fight down the street”. He at least did get to face Palani in court on Monday when he read his victim-impact statement. Palani, wearing a zip-up sports jacket, kept his head down as Burke told him he believed he was meeting someone that night for an intimate moment. “I didn’t realise I was going to meet a coward and a monster.”

Burke is also critical of the gardaí, who he believes could have caught Palani sooner. At first they didn’t take the attack on him seriously, he says. “I think they just thought it was a drunken assault.”

Monday’s sentencing hearing was dominated by a series of heart-rending pen portraits of Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt and their lives. A common thread ran through all of them: why did Palani do it?

“All we are left with are unanswered questions – mainly, why?”, said Christy Moffitt, brother of Aidan, in a victim-impact statement. “Why did you pick Aidan? Why was Aidan second on your list? Why did you murder Aidan? Why?”

The accused’s mitigation plea was perfunctory, lasting no more than two minutes, and offered no insight into his motivations. Instead, through his barrister, Palani apologised for the hurt he caused and said he accepted his actions had been “grotesque and without justification.”

In the aftermath of the murders several factors, including the targeting of gay men, the exceptionally violent nature of the attacks and Palani’s Muslim faith gave rise to fears the attacks were acts of terrorism.

A highly unusual discovery added fuel to these suspicions. In two suitcases gardaí discovered more than €300,000 in cash. Enquiries were immediately launched by the Garda Special Detective Unit which handles Islamic terrorism and checks were made with intelligence agencies in the United States, UK and European Union on whether Palani had appeared on their radars.

The replies were all negative. The court heard on Monday gardaí are satisfied Palani had not been radicalised “despite some suggestions to the contrary”. Furthermore, he has no previous convictions and his family were not known to be particularly devout Muslims.

The origin of the money was investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Its source has not been released publicly but sources said they believe the money was the legitimate earnings of the family, some of which was brought from Iraq where they had a relatively good quality of life before being forced to flee.

“They were frugal and didn’t use banks,” said a source.

Palani’s family is not suspected of involvement in the murders or any other criminality.

If the attacks do not meet the definition of terrorism, they certainly meet the definition of a hate crime. Det Garda Jordan said Palani had targeted his victims due to “hostility and prejudice” towards gay men. He also made sure to target only Irish men. In one message to a victim, he asked: “Are you 100 per cent Irish?” The Garda added he believed Palani would have continued to kill if he had not been caught.

The explanation of Palani being driven by extreme homophobia does not sit easily with the fact that he engaged in sexual acts with at least one of his victims. On the other hand, outside of the Netflix dramas, crimes often do not sit neatly into categories. It’s entirely possible Palani hated gay people while being gay himself.

Regardless of his motivation, Palani’s actions have devastated countless lives, including that of Anthony Burke. In his victim-impact statement, Burke described his suicidal thoughts and the “huge impact” the incident has had on his relationships with his friends and family.

Every time he walks outside his house, he added, “I see Yousef Palani that night as he shoved the knife in my eye.”