Family of slain Muslims calls Chapel Hill shooting 'absolutely… domestic terrorism'
The families of the three Muslims murdered in North Carolina are sharing the young victims’ stories with the world. But they're also calling attention to discrepancies in coverage when Muslims are the victims of terrorism, rather than the perpetrators.
Linda Sarsour, a family spokeswoman and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, spoke to RT’s Ben Swann about the tragic events on Monday when Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were gunned down in their Chapel Hill home.
46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in late Tuesday night and was arrested on suspicion of three counts of first-degree murder. Hicks lived next door to the family, in a condominium complex a few miles east of the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus.
“The family is absolutely convinced that this is a hate crime, based on conversations that the father had with his daughter about a very hateful neighbor,” Sarsour said. “She told her father, ‘I know that he hates me for who I am and what I’m wearing.’”
The FBI has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether or not any federal laws were broken related to the case, Reuters reported. Those laws could include civil rights violations or the committing of a hate crime.
“[Hicks] used to see them walking into the apartment complex and have his hand on a very visible gun in a holster,” she added. “And that plus very interesting social media posts, seems he’s a very extremist anti-theist, so he’s very anti- any religion or anti-religious people.”
Hicks is a self-described atheist who regularly posted content critical of religion on his Facebook account.
The father of the two women killed, psychiatrist Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, told the Raleigh News & Observer that one of his daughters had told the family a week ago that she had a “hateful neighbor.”
Hicks' wife Karen denies her husband was motivated by Islamophobia, but rather by an ongoing parking dispute at the condominium complex.
“I can say with my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or victims’ faith, but was, in fact, related to the long-standing parking disputes that my husband had with the neighbors, our neighbors of various religions, races and creeds,” she told reporters Wednesday.
— Ιman | ايمان (@ImaniAmrani) February 11, 2015
But Dr. Abu-Salha said that the fact that his relatives were shot in the head “execution style” showed the shooter had an underlying animosity towards his daughters and son-in-law based on their religion and culture.
Sarsour said it was offensive for Hicks to brush aside the underlying hatred her husband harbored towards his victims.
“It’s actually quite offensive when you’re telling families that their three children were murdered ‒ execution style ‒ pronounced dead at the scene over a parking space. You have to have a lot of hate in your heart for you to be able to murder young students in the way that they were murdered,” she told RT.
Sarsour then criticized the media for its lack of coverage of the shootings until an outcry took place on social media – featuring #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting – focused their attention on the crime.
“If the perpetrator was Muslim, we would be having non-stop coverage of his religion, who he’s affiliated with, where did he work, who did he speak to, and there really hasn’t been that much focus,” she said.
— Omar Ghraieb (@Omar_Gaza) February 13, 2015
“I’m happy that the focus now has been on these three lives, on their beautiful lives -- full lives that they’ve lived, on their families,” the spokeswoman added. “And that’s the story you want to tell because these were Americans. But not only were they Americans, they were extraordinary Americans who gave back to their community, were successful students -- and that’s how their families want them to be remembered.”
The families of the three victims have received an outpouring of support from around the country and the world, not just with people sending condolences, but also with people offering to set up donation pages to helping Syrian refugees ‒ a cause very dear to Barakat.
But despite the silver lining that the support has revealed, the family still believes that Hicks’ actions were “absolutely an act of terrorism.”
“Terrorism is a crime that has political or religious motivations behind it. This guy was an anti-theist. If you look at some of his social media posts, he was anti-religion and anti-religious people,” Sarsour said. “These young women were wearing headscarves; they were identifiably Muslim. And we should be calling domestic terrorism, regardless of who the perpetrator is or who the victims are. And in this case, this is absolutely to me a domestic terrorism case."