The father of two Muslim women who were shot dead in North Carolina on Tuesday has called the killings a “hate crime.”
Dr Mohammad Abu-Salha said that whatever triggered the killings he considered that hatred of Islam was surely involved. “It was execution style, a bullet in every head,” he told a local paper, the News & Observer.
“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.
Craig Stephen Hicks used his Facebook page to express his disdain for religions. “I give your religion as much respect as your religion gives me,” he wrote.
Pressure on the police to investigate the killings as a hate crime has also been applied by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“I find it hard to believe a parking dispute alone would result in an execution-style murder of three people,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There has to be other factors involved.”
Others in the community said it appeared the police were trying to minimize the religious factor in the murder.
“They don’t know yet if it’s a hate crime,” said Anna Bigelow, associate professor of Islamic Studies at N.C. State. “It’s irresponsible not to account for that possibility. The Muslim community has a legitimate reason to feel vulnerable and to have that vulnerability respected as part of their civil rights.”
But Karen Hicks, the suspect’s wife, said on Wednesday that her husband’s actions went no further than an ongoing dispute over parking at the residence.
“I can say that it is my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or the victim’s faith, but in fact was related to long-standing parking disputes my husband had with various neighbors regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Ms Hicks said in a statement.
Mr Hicks appeared in court on Wednesday and remains in custody. He is accused of shooting Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.
Police said they had found no evidence of any motivation beyond a confrontation over parking spaces, but that their investigation was continuing.