Hijabi Iraqi Woman Killed: A Thinly Veiled Hate Crime?
Whoever killed Shaima Al Awadi planned the act.
They brought a tyre-iron into her five-bedroom, 2,690 square foot home at 564 Skyview Street home in El Cajon, California, last Wednesday morning, and they beat her repeatedly to unconsciousness and beyond — to the point where her brain swelled irreversibly.
Then they took the time to write a note and leave it beside the 32-year-old Iraqi woman as she lay bleeding and fatally battered on the living-room floor.
"Go back to your country, you terrorist," the killer's note read.
On Friday at 3pm, Shaima's family decided enough was enough, and took her off life support. She had never regained consciousness from the blows rained down on her head.
By yesterday afternoon, Shaima's murder, horrific, bloody and brutal as it was, didn't warrant a mention on the local police department's list of recent critical incidents.
Her family of five children, including her 17-year-old daughter Fatima Al Himidi, moved into the suburban detached home with two-and-a-half bathrooms and abutted by Tuttle Park some weeks ago. It was Fatima who found her mother's broken and bloodied body after the tyre-iron wielding attacker left the home.
The perpetrator knew when to strike — the family's father had left the house to take the younger children to school.
And local police think the attacker is behind another hate note left on the family's doorstep — only then they didn't report and dismissed it as a prank against them. There are, after all, 40,000 Iraqis living in El Cajon.
The family had moved to the city from Michigan and had ties with the United States military and private contractors. Shaima's husband provided cultural sensitivity training to US forces about to be deployed to Iraq and the family had lived in the US for about 15 years.
The San Diego chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) is condemning Shaima's murder as a hate crime, racially motivated because Shaima wore a hijab.
"Our community does face a lot of discriminatory, hate incidents and don't always report them," Hanif Mohebi, director of CAIR-San Diego said.
"The family is in shock at the moment. They're still trying to deal with what happened.
Online, however, Shaima's death has spurred American Muslims to rally and speak out against growing incidents of Islamophobia.
A facebook page, "One Million Hijabs for Shaima Al Awadi", has been launched, aimed at raising awareness over the victims death — targeted because she was a devout Muslim who wore a hijab.
"I personally can't stand the hijab, but if a woman wants to wear that, she's not a menace to society, for heaven's sakes. As a Muslim woman, it is MY CHOICE whether or not to wear a head covering. If I choose to wear it, it shouldn't make me a target for murder!." one woman, Margaret Setterholm, posted on the site.
But that posting was followed by another: "Maybe she should have stayed in Iraq where she belonged," user Bill McPherson wrote.
El Cajon Police Department believes the attack is an isolated incident.
"A hate crime is one of the possibilities, and we will be looking at that," Lt. Mark coit said. "We don't want to focus on only one issue and miss something else."
As of yesterday afternoon, the San Diego field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had not listed Shaima's death as a hate crime.
By Mick O'Reilly