Congressional candidate hits out at CAIR amid growing ‘witch-hunt’ of Muslim groups and rising Islamophobic attacks.
Washington, DC – A memorial to Nabra Hassanen, the 17-year-old girl bludgeoned to death after leaving her mosque in Virginia, was set on fire early Wednesday, further increasing speculation that her death was a hate crime.
Police arrested Jonathon Soloman, 24, of South Carolina and charged him with vandalism. Police spokeswoman Sergeant Anna Rose told Al Jazeera via email “the memorial did not appear to be specifically targeted”.
However, the attacks on Hassanen and her memorial have caused some to suspect bigotry was a factor. Police currently attribute the killing to a case of “road rage”.
According to police reports, the 17-year-old was with a group of her friends after prayers Sunday morning when they had an altercation with Darwin Martinez Torres, 22. He is accused of bludgeoning Hassanen with a baseball bat and disposing of her body in a pond.
Abas Sherif, a spokesman for the Hassenen family, told local media that Nabra and the other girls in her group were wearing the hijab – a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion – and loose clothing when the attack occurred.
Nabra’s father, Mahmoud Hassanen, said he believed it was a hate crime, regardless of what the police have said.
Christopher Allen, a 19-year-old tourist visiting Washington for summer vacation, told Al Jazeera the circumstances surrounding Hassanen’s death point to a hate crime.
“It’s hard to believe her appearance had nothing to do with it,” Allen said at a bus stop near the memorial. “It’s suspicious that her memorial would just suddenly catch fire a few days later.”
Ibrahim Hooper, media director for the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR), the nation’s largest grassroots Muslim civil rights organisation, said his group would work with police.
“We’re obviously concerned about it – and the possible motive behind it. We’ll be working with law enforcement to see if there was any bias to this action, or if it was just a random act,” Hooper said from Hassanen’s funeral on Wednesday, where an estimated 5,000 people paid their respects.
The funeral was held at the All Dallas Area Muslim Society – one of the largest mosques in the United States – in Sterling, Virginia.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated” by an offender’s bias against a certain race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity.
Hassanen’s death and the fire at her memorial come during a time when the United States is experiencing a surge in violence against Muslims.
A CAIR report released in May said there was a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents from 2015 to 2016. “This was accompanied by a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the same period,” it said.
The makeshift memorial for Hassanen was erected on Tuesday during a vigil in DuPont Circle, a historic area in the US capital near the White House, as part of a nationwide remembrance.
By Wednesday afternoon, the memorial had been repaired. Small flower pots were available for passersby to arrange, as was a pen to write down thoughts and wishes for the slain 17-year-old girl.