Reporting from San Diego— El Cajon police are asking for the public’s help in its investigation into the fatal beating of an Iraqi immigrant and have not ruled out the possibility that Shaima Alawadi was the victim of a hate crime.
“We’re investigating all aspects of this crime,” Lt. Mark Coit said Sunday. “The minute you rule out a possible motive, you start to get tunnel vision. As of now, we have not ruled out any of the motives for why people kill people.”
Near the body of the 32-year-old Alawadi, police found what has been described as a threatening note. Police have declined to release the text, but relatives and friends say the handwritten note warned Alawadi to “go back to your own country” and labeled her a terrorist.
The family told police they had received a similarly threatening note several days earlier but considered it a prank by teenagers.
Alawadi was found unconscious Wednesday morning in the dining room of the family’s home by her 17-year-old daughter. She was taken to a hospital, where she was diagnosed as brain-dead. Her family decided on Saturday to discontinue life support.
Police said that whatever the motive, the attack appears to be “an isolated event,” not part of an overall pattern of violence toward immigrants.
Coit said police are unsure about the murder weapon but that Alawadi was beaten with a large object.
Alawadi’s husband had reportedly left earlier to take the couple’s younger children to school.
Alawadi and her husband had moved to El Cajon from a Detroit suburb several weeks ago. The two areas are considered the most popular destinations for Iraqi immigrants to the United States.
Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Sunday that Alawadi’s children and husband “are just trying to cope, as the discussion turns to planning a funeral. They’re still kind of numb.”
The immigrant community in eastern San Diego County is in shock over the killing, Mohebi said. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 immigrants from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries have settled in El Cajon, La Mesa and adjacent unincorporated areas east of San Diego.
Alawadi and her husband, Kassim Alhimidi, immigrated to the United States in the mid-1990s and have two sons and three daughters, ranging in age from 7 to 18, Mohebi said.
Far from being an “invisible” minority, the immigrants own small markets and restaurants throughout the area and have a community center in downtown El Cajon. Many are Chaldeans, Iraqi Christians persecuted during the regime ofSaddam Hussein.
“The family, and the community, is concerned that there is a possibility that this is a hate crime,” Mohebi said. “We’ve had some stuff in the past — insults mostly — but nothing physical. This is shocking to the community, the state and even the country.”
Coit said police anticipated a possible backlash toward Middle Eastern immigrants after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and then the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“We never saw it,” Coit said. “For the most part, our community has learned to be very tolerant of everybody.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the El Cajon police at (619) 579-3311.