The seven-million strong American Muslim community was shocked and terrified by the execution-style murder of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on February 10.
The students, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21 and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were shot by 46 year old Craig Stephen Hicks who turned himself in to the authorities. The victims were shot in their heads in their apartment.
On Friday February 13, President Barack Obama made his first comments about the three young Muslims who were brutally killed, saying no one in America should ever be targeted "because of who they are, what they look like or how they worship." In a statement Obama said that the FBI would determine whether federal laws were violated in "the brutal and outrageous murders" of the three in the university town of Chapel Hill.
His comments came after criticism from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Mr Obama's silence on the case. Speaking alongside Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during a state visit to Mexico on Feb 13, Erdogan said the silence of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry was "telling" and they should take a position following such acts. "If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don't make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you," Erdogan said.
On Friday, February 13, 2015, 149 organizations sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to "open a full and rigorous federal hate crime investigation" of the brutal murders. The letter pointed out: "These killings come in the wake of a disturbing rise in especially threatening and vitriolic anti- "-Muslim rhetoric and activities. In recent weeks, after the release of the movie American Sniper, many tweeted hateful and deplorable messages demeaning to Muslims and Arabs."
The joint letter also said: "Federal leadership is necessary in this case in order to send the strongest message to the public that acts of violence like these have no place in a civil society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This would be the first time, to our knowledge, that a U.S. Attorney General has held a press conference to announce a federal investigation or indictment of a potential hate crime against members of the American Muslim, Arab, Sikh or South Asian communities."
Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of two of the murdered sisters, told media that his daughter Yusor told him "on more than two occasions that this man came knocking at the door and fighting about everything with a gun on his belt, more than twice" and that "Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look." Yusor wore a headscarf as many Muslim women wear.
While police in Chapel Hill said a preliminary investigation suggests Craig Stephens Hicks acted based on a parking dispute, Facebook posts show Hicks' atheist attitudes and his disdain for Islam and Christianity.
Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, said that based on those posts and newspaper articles he has read about the murders -- in addition to people he has talked to in North Carolina -- the parking dispute explanation is likely "not the whole story." "It's prudent for us not to jump to a conclusion, but it's also prudent for us to keep all options open, including the possibility that it was a biased, motivated crime," Ellison said.
"Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in a statement said it firmly believed the senseless murder of the three Arab and Muslim American students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is a result of hate rhetoric and the spread of anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia.
"The ADC has observed a drastic increase of anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia within the last few years, the ADC statement said adding: This increase in rhetoric and violence is directly linked to the negative media coverage and hateful propaganda launched against the Arab and Muslim communities. For example, the media's biased coverage following attacks on the Charlie Hedbo offices in France; the release of the film "American Sniper;" and the false statements by opportunistic politicians such as the Governor of Louisiana Piyush (Bobby) Jindal on 'no go zones for non-Muslims,' all contributed to the growing narrative against the Arab and Muslim American communities.
The ADC President Samer Khalaf stated: "The use and enforcement of U.S. laws to target Arab and Muslim Americans emboldens the violence we witnessed in the Chapel Hill executions. Targeted surveillance and racial and religious profiling against our community by the government perpetuates anti-Arab sentiment and Islamophobia in our society. Government laws and policies endorse attitudes that all Arabs and Muslims are potential threats, enemies, and disposable."
The American Muslim community was disappointed at the minimized mainstream coverage of the murder of the three students. The CAIR Communications Director, Ibrahim Hooper argued: "It goes without saying that if the perpetrators were Muslims there would have been international headlines immediately."