Killer of three Muslim students sentenced to life

28th Jun 2019
Killer of three Muslim students sentenced to life

Vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 15, 2015 (Photo: Voice of America)

Elham Asaad Buaras

The killer of three Muslim American students in North Carolina, has been sentenced to life without parole, in a case branded as a hate crime by the victim’s families as well as civil right groups.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 50, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder on June 12.
In 2015, 150 civil rights and faith groups signed a letter sent to US Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a federal hate crime investigation into the triple murders on February 10, 2015.

The letter, which was signed by Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Sikh, Asian American and other groups stated: “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 civil society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law… as American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim now, more than ever, fear for their safety, the American people need to hear a strong message our nation’s chief law enforcement officer.”

The shootings took place as the three young people were sitting down to dinner.  Deah Barakat, 23, was a second-year student in the University of North Carolina’s dentistry school. His 21-year-old wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, was planning to attend that graduate school. Her 19-year-old sister, Razan Abu-Salha, was a student at North Carolina State University.

They were interrupted by Hicks, ringing the doorbell. Prosecutors played an unreleased video recording that captured part of the shootings and was taken from Barakat’s mobile phone.

According to media reports, the 36-second video shows Hicks first threatening Deah, then start shooting the phone falls with the camera facing the ceiling. As the video continues the screams from the two sisters, both of whom can be heard pleading for their lives screaming, Please! Please!’.

Hicks said his actions may have been fueled in part by a parking dispute between neighbours. But in court, prosecutors made it clear that Hicks harboured animosity for the young trio from the start.

Local police in Chapel Hill responded to a report of gunshots heard at 5:15 p.m. Upon arriving at the Finley Forest Condominiums they found Barakat lying dead in the front doorway bleeding from the head. One of the Abu-Salha sisters was found dead in the kitchen, with the other lying in the doorway of that room. All three victims had been killed with gunshot wounds to the head and were pronounced dead at the scene.

The victims’ friends and family disagreed with characterisations of the crime as a dispute. It was clear, they said, that Hicks felt special hostility to his Muslim neighbours. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the women’s father, said Hicks had previously threatened the family and that he followed that up with methodical and very intentional violence.

“It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” said Abu-Salha. “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.” Governments and leaders of several Muslim-majority countries deemed the shooting to be terrorism, including Lebanon, Morocco and Palestine.

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei; the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; and the mother of the Emir of Qatar, Moza bint Nasser, accused the Western world of double standards on their reaction to the shooting.

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