Mourners remember slain Iraqi-US woman

2012-03-28 11:03
Lakeside - Mourners gathered to pay respects on Tuesday for an Iraqi-American woman who died after being severely beaten in her California home by a killer who left a threatening note that has prompted an investigation of the case as a possible hate crime.

Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother of five, was found unconscious in the dining room of her rented home in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on Wednesday morning by her 17-year-old daughter, police said.

She was taken to a local trauma centre with a severe head injury, police said. Doctors took her off life support and she died on Saturday afternoon.

"We want to let everyone know how innocent our mother, this woman, was," Alawadi's husband Kassim al-Himidi told a sombre crowd at the Islamic Centre of Lakeside near El Cajon in San Diego County, speaking in Arabic as his son Mohammed translated.

Addressing his wife's unknown killer, he said: "The main question we would like to ask is, 'What are you getting out of this, and why would you do this?'" Himidi did not speak with anyone after his remarks at the mosque, located about 40km from downtown San Diego.

"As an Iraqi and an American citizen here, all of us are in the same boat. We stand to save this boat. We stand not to kill each other, but to get to know each other," San Diego Imam Sharif Battikhi told the mourners. "These criminal hands, they don't just kill [Alawadi]. But they kill our community."

Hate crime

Alawadi's family was planning to fly her body back to Iraq within the week for burial, according to Sadaf Hane, civil rights director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Representatives of the Iraqi government attended the service.

Police have said they were investigating the killing of Alawadi as a possible hate crime because of a note found near her after the beating that police said was "threatening in nature". Authorities have stopped short of ruling out other scenarios.

A friend of the family, Sura Alzaidy, told the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper that the note found near Alawadi read: "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist."

If hate is confirmed as a motive in the killing, it would be the worst bias crime committed against Arabs or Muslims in years in the area, Hane said. But authorities and Arab and Muslim groups were cautious about jumping to conclusions as the police investigation continued.

El Cajon and nearby areas are home to about 50 000 to 60 000 immigrants and refugees of Middle Eastern descent, police said, but it has not experienced violent hate crimes in the past.

FBI assistance

"We don't know if it was a hate crime," Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, said at the service.

"We are here to grieve with the family of Shaima. We are here for her today. We are here to show our love and respect for her family. We don't know what the facts of the case are," he said.

The FBI is assisting the El Cajon Police Department in the investigation, and has provided agents from a squad that is specifically trained to conduct hate crime investigations, according to FBI spokesperson Darrell Foxworth.

"We strongly believe that this is an isolated incident," El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman told reporters on Monday. "There is no free-flowing hostility."

Foxworth also emphasised that the attack was an "isolated incident", but would not comment on suspects or evidence.

Silent candlelight vigils were planned in the area by members of a Facebook group 'One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi', which has garnered nearly 6 500 members. A hijab is the clothing that devout Muslim women wear to cover their hair and bodies.

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