March 24, 2012
Police are investigating the beating death of a 32-year-old Iraqi-American woman in suburban San Diego as a possible hate crime but stressed that they are also looking at other possible scenarios.
El Cajon Police Chief James Redman said Monday that investigators have evidence that includes a threatening note found near Shaima Alawadi’s body. Her daughter told a television station that it says: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
Redman declined to discuss the note’s contents, though he said that it has led police to regard the killing as a possible hate crime. The family has mentioned that there was a similar note from earlier, but police do not have a copy of it.
The chief said the victim died of severe head trauma but did not confirm the type of weapon. Redman said he was confident it was an isolated incident but would not say why. ”I want to stress there is other evidence in this case that we are looking at and the possibility this is a hate crime is just one aspect,” Redman said, adding that they have not drawn any conclusions. ”We don’t have tunnel vision on this case,” he said. “We’re looking at the big picture.”
Alawadi was taken off life support Saturday, three days after her teenage daughter found her unconscious in the dining room of the family’s El Cajon home in suburban San Diego.
On Monday, Iraq’s foreign minister said Alawadi’s body will be flown to Baghdad as lawmakers in her native country demanded a thorough investigation. The official declined further comment.
Alawadi’s father is Sayed Nabeel Alawadi, a Shiite cleric in Iraq, a Muslim leader in Michigan told the Detroit Free Press on Sunday. “Everybody is outraged,” Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn said. “This is too evil, too criminal.”
Reaction in Baghdad was muted, though some lawmakers pressed for answers. Government offices were closed, and newspapers were not printing this week for the diplomatic summit. ”We deplore this hideous crime that took place in a country calls itself the land of democracy, freedoms and freedom of religious. The parliament will take a serious position on this. Iraqi Foreign Affairs Ministry must now officially ask the U.S. Embassy and the Department of State for more details on this hideous crime,” said Aliyah Nisayef, an Iraqi female lawmaker.
Lawmaker Haider al-Mulla, a Shiite from the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya political party, also asked that the U.S. government step into the investigation. ”If the investigation reveals that the attack was a hatred crime, then U.S. authorities should take measures to protect all Iraqi refugees on American soil,” al-Mulla said.
The victim’s daughter, Fatima Al Himidi, told KUSI-TV in San Diego that her mother had been beaten on the head repeatedly with a tire iron, and the note was next to her. Police said the family had found a similar, threatening note earlier this month but did not report it to authorities. Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Diego chapter, said family members told him they dismissed the initial note as a prank.
Family members told Mohebi they arrived in the San Diego area in 1995, lived in Dearborn, Mich., from 2005 to 2008 and returned to San Diego. ”What I got from the family members was: ‘We came (to the United States) for a better life, for safety, to get away from violence, to be free,’” Mohebi said.
Hayder Al-Zayadi, a family friend, told the Free Press that Alawadi moved to the United States in 1993 with her family and was part of a wave of Shiite Muslim refugees who fled to Michigan after Saddam Hussein cracked down on an uprising in 1991. After living in Dearborn for a few years, she moved to the San Diego area in 1996, graduated from high school and became a housewife raising five children, Al-Zayadi said.
Al-Zayadi said Alawadi’s brothers worked for the U.S. Army, serving as cultural advisers to train soldiers who were going to be deployed to the Middle East. Another family friend told U-T San Diego that Alawadi’s husband had a similar job.
Flowers were set on the doorstep of the home Monday. One of the glass panels on a sliding back patio door was boarded up with wood. The backyard overlooks a middle school.
Neighbors said the family had moved in about two months ago. Friends and neighbors said Alawadi wore a hijab, the Islamic head scarf. Alvin Luckenbach, who lives next door, exchanged pleasantries with Alawadi and her husband. She recently apologized for her kids making noise playing basketball on Alawadi’s back patio. ”They were always nice,” Luckenbach said.
Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, said Alawadi’s death was a primary topic of conversation among speakers and attendees Sunday evening at the organization’s annual banquet in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. He and others compared her slaying to that of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer and whose case has ignited racial tensions.
“Treyvon was black wearing a hoodie. Shaima was wearing a hijab,” Walid said. “It’s the same racist principle at play that killed both of these individuals.”
Others were more guarded. ”We don’t want to jump to any conclusions and say it’s a hate crime when there is still is a lot of investigation to be done,” said Edgar Hopida, spokesman for CAIR in San Diego.
El Cajon, east of San Diego, is home to one of the largest Iraqi communities in the United States, including Muslims and Chaldean Christians.