The weekend death in California of a 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant – a mother of five children — is drawing worldwide attention as the latest possible U.S. hate crime killing.
Shaima Alawadi died Saturday after she was taken off life support, three days after being found unconscious and brutally beaten in her family home in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, authorities said.
The victim’s 17-year-old daughter, Fatima Al Himidi, told San Diego’s KUSI-TV that her mother was beaten on the head with a tire iron and a threatening note was found nearby saying, “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
“We’re not the terrorists, you are,” the daughter said in a video posted on YouTube. She and her mother both followed the Muslim practice of covering their heads with hijabs.
The family immigrated to the United States in the mid-1990s and lived in Michigan before recently moving to El Cajon, which has a large population of Iraqi and Kurdish immigrants. The victim had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The family received a similar threatening note earlier this month, but did not report it to authorities, El Cajon Police Lt. Mark Coit said in a press release posted on the department’s website. He called the crime an “isolated incident.”
The victim’s husband, Kassim Al Himidi, who has worked for the U.S. military as a cultural advisor, was taking the couple’s younger children to school when the assault occurred inside the family home on March 21.
“A hate crime is one of the possibilities, and we will be looking at that,” the El Cajon police official told The Associated Press. “We don’t want to focus on only one issue and miss something else.”
Edgar Hopida, a spokesman for the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Hatewatch that while the beating death has earmarks of a possible hate crime, it’s too early to draw that conclusion with certainty. “It seems from what we know now that it may be hate-motivated, although we’re leaving it to law enforcement to draw that conclusion,” Hopida said.
The CAIR spokesman said the beating death would be a topic of discussion today at a previously scheduled panel discussion at the Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego on bias crimes targeting Muslims.
Word of the woman’s death is drawing worldwide attention, largely through social media sites, although it was also on the front page of one newspaper in Great Britain. Some bloggers are drawing comparisons to the Feb. 26 fatal shooting in Sanford Fla., of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black youth whose death also has captured wide-spread attention. Martin was killed by a white Latino man who told police he was suspicious, in part, because of Martin’s hoodie.
On Twitter, one poster said, “Welcome to America, where you get killed for being suspicious for wearing a hoodie and a hajib.”
The Iraqi government will pay to return Alawadi’s body to Iraq where her father, Sayed Nabeel Alawadi, is a Shia cleric, the Detroit newspaper reported.