The murder of a teenage Muslim girl beaten and killed by a bat-wielding motorist near a Virginia mosque was likely a “road rage incident”, not a hate crime, US police said, prompting outrage from many who say the teen was targeted because of her religion.
Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, has been arrested and charged with Nabra Hassanen’s murder in an incident police say began as a road dispute with a male teenager who was among Hassanen’s group.
“It appears that the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence,” Fairfax County police spokeswoman Julie Parker said at a news conference on Monday.
Parker said there was no indication the attack near the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque early on Sunday was motivated by race or religion.
She added that there was no sign that Martinez used racial slurs as he chased the group of teenagers into a car park, emerged from his car with a baseball bat and struck Hassanen before loading her into a car and dumping her body in a pond in a neighbouring town.
Hassanen’s father, Mohmoud Hassanen Aboras, told The Guardian newspaper he believes his daughter was killed because “she is Muslim”.
He also told reporters he doesn’t want anyone to feel the pain he feels.
“My daughter is dead, and I don’t want anyone to feel what I feel, to lose your 17-year-old daughter … Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hispanic, whatever,” he said.
Authorities said its findings could change pending an ongoing investigation.
‘Words shape narrative’
Police had announced earlier on Monday that they were “not investigating [Hassanen’s] murder as a hate crime”, provoking deep scepticism among many within the Muslim community.
Abas Sherif, a spokesman for the victim’s family, said Hassanen and the other girls in her group were wearing headscarves, leaving many to believe she was targeted because of her religion.
Online, many expressed outrage over the decision by police not to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
Road rage. Indeed.
If you think for a minute that her appearance had nothing to do with this crime, you're lying to yourself. pic.twitter.com/zIo0YiVjjK
— rabia O'chaudry (@rabiasquared) June 19, 2017
The murder of #Nabra was a hate crime done by a terrorist
Words shape narrative and we need to use correct adjectives when describing evil
— Hanif J. Williams (@HanifJWilliams) June 19, 2017
Anti-Muslim hate crimes
Others highlighted the surge of anti-Muslim crimes and the rise of Islamophobia worldwide in recent years, also pointing to Monday’s attack in Finsbury Park, north London, in which a man drove a van into a group of people leaving Ramadan prayers at a nearby mosque.
— Noor ☭🇵🇸🇮🇹🧕🏼🦋 Nug Bug (@MuslimMissWorld) June 19, 2017
— ayan (@NubianInGold) June 19, 2017
The Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR), an Islamic civil rights organisation, urged US police to “conduct a thorough investigation of possible bias motive in [Hassanen ‘s] case, coming as it does at a time of rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate attacks nationwide”.
In a recent report, CAIR documented a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents from 2015 to 2016.
“This was accompanied by a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the same period,” the report said.
In May, two men were stabbed to death as they tried to stop a white supremacist who was bullying Muslim women on a train in Portland, Oregon.
Critics argue the rhetoric from President Donald Trump has contributed to the rise. Trump signed an executive order earlier this year that would ban travellers from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. That order has been frozen by several courts.
Others point to the way Islam has been been portrayed by media organisations, particularly those in the US.
CAIR also documented at least 10 anti-Muslim laws that were enacted by state legislatures between 2013 and 2015.