Family of North Carolina shooting victims denounce killings as ‘hate crime’

The older sister of one of three North Carolina (United States) students killed in an attack on Tuesday has called for the authorities to investigate the shooting “as a hate crime”. In an emotional press conference, Suzanne Barakat described the killing of her brother as an “execution-style murder” and other family claim anti-Muslim motiviations.

The families of three murdered Muslim students called for the horrific triple-homicide to be investigated as a hate crime on Wednesday but police  indicated a parking dispute had triggered the killings.

The women’s father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, said: “It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” Abu-Salha said. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.” He said his daughter had mentioned having a “hateful neighbor.” “Honest to God, she said, ‘He hates us for what we are and how we look,'” he said.

Police emphasized that initial investigations indicated a dispute between Hicks and his victims over parking spaces may have been the catalyst for a shooting spree which claimed the lives of three young Arab-American students.

“Our preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” Chapel Hill police said in a statement, adding that Hicks was cooperating with investigators.

“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act.
“We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case,” Police Chief Chris Blue said.

On Tuesday night, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead in their home in Chapel Hill near the University of North Carolina (UDC). A 46-year-old man who handed himself in shortly after the attack, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been charged with three counts of murder.

Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders in Chapel Hill, N.C. (The News & Observer, Al Drago)

Chapel Hill police officers investigate the scene of three murders in Chapel Hill, N.C. (The News & Observer, Al Drago)

North Carolina triple slaying arouses fear of hate crimes against Muslims

One of the leading advocates for Arab-Americans has hit out at the lack of coverage received by the killing of three young Muslims in North Carolina, describing it as symptomatic of an American Sniper-inspired rise in Islamophobia.

(ADC) is the country’s largest Arab-American civil rights organization. Founded by former U.S. Senator James Abourezk in 1980, ADC has protected the Arab-American community for thirty five years against defamation, discrimination, racism, and stereotyping.

Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said in an interview to The Independent that the film industry, US government and right-wing political commentators all had a role to play in the recent surge in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Abed Ayoub is the one who started the #ChapelHillShooting hashtag. “This country needs to realise that acts of terrorism are not confined to a single religion or ethnicity,” he said. “This [Islamophobia] is something that needs to stop and we would like the media to pay more attention and cover this more to show the impact of hate crime and hate speech” Ayoub insists.

The ADC in a media release demanded that the Department of Justice and the Chapel Hill Police Department take immediate action and investigate this matter as a hate crime under the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The ADC, a lobby group based in Washington, was founded in 1980 by the first US Senator of Arab origin, James Abourezk, and is the largest organisation representing the civil rights of Arab-Americans in the US.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise in US

If the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill does turn out to be motivated by anti-Islamic sentiment, it would be one of dozens of such events that happen each year, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports program. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the program typically recorded between 20 and 30 anti-Muslim hate crimes per year, highlights By Christopher Ingraham. But in 2001 that number rose more than tenfold to nearly 500. In the years since, annual hate crimes against Muslims have consistently hovered in the 100-150 range, roughly five times higher than the pre-9/11 rate. Overall, anti-Muslim crimes now make up about 13 percent of religiously-motivated hate crimes, and 2 percent of all hate crimes in general.

ADC believes there is a high probability that the shooter targeted the victims because of their religion and national origin and has recently issued a community advisory warning of the rise of anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiment in the United States.

Speaking about the rise of anti-Arab sentiment in the US since the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero mosque in 2010, Mr Ayoub called the release of American Sniper “the turning point”.

“It may not be directly linked to the film, but the overall way that Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment are moving in this country is portrayed in the words of those who watched American Sniper.