Nabra Hassanen was murdered after leaving a mosque in the early hours of Sunday, but authorities ruled out hate as a motive.
Activists and the mother of a Muslim American teenager who was murdered in Virginia on Sunday rejected the police’s conclusion that the crime was not motivated by hate.
Nabra Hassanen was assaulted before dawn on Sunday in Sterling, Virginia, about 50 km west of Washington DC, after attending overnight prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque for the holy month of Ramadan.
The exact cause of her death has not been made public, but a statement from the Fairfax County police said Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, has been arrested and charged with murder.
Hassanen, 17, was an apparent victim of “road rage,” police said.
According to accounts by Hassanen’s friends, reported by Buzzfeed, the teenager was leaving the mosque with her friends when an altercation ensued between them and the suspect who was in his car and appeared drunk.
Torres reportedly chased the teenagers, some of whom were riding bicycles, with his car. When Torres was out of the car, he reportedly struck Hassanen with a baseball bat, and then allegedly kidnapped and murdered her.
The victim’s remains were found in a nearby pond on Sunday afternoon. The crime, which coincided with the van attack against Muslim worshippers in London, captured the attention of Muslim Americans at a time when hate crime has been on the rise.
But on Monday, police ruled out racial or religious bias as a motive in the incident.
However, Sawsan Gazzar, Hassanen’s mother, said she believes her daughter’s religion and appearance should not be discounted as a factor in the crime. The victim was wearing an abaya – traditional Islamic dress.
Flipping someone off & incessant honking or swerving might be “road rage”. Murdering a child & dumping her body in a pond is something else. https://t.co/H0pdJRieZV
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) June 19, 2017
“I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she’s Muslim,” Gazzar told the Washington Post. “Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged a hate crime probe into the incident.
“As we grieve for Nabra’s loss, we also urge law enforcement authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of a possible bias motive in this case, coming as it does at a time of rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate attacks nationwide,” CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said in a statement.
Road rage. Indeed.
If you think for a minute that her appearance had nothing to do with this crime, you’re lying to yourself. pic.twitter.com/zIo0YiVjjK
— rabia chaudry (@rabiasquared) June 19, 2017
The authorities’ determining the motive of the murder as “road rage” drew comparisons with the February 2015 fatal shooting of three young Muslims by their neighbour in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Police had said a parking dispute led to the incident then – a claim widely rejected by Muslim advocates who believed the murder to be a hate crime.
One tweeter drew similarities between this murder and the deaths of Deah Yusor and Razan who were murdered in their homes by a neighbour over what was called a “parking dispute.”
— Samar Jarrah (@SamarDJarrah) June 19, 2017
Torres was assigned a public defender on Monday and a judge ordered that he remain in jail without bail, according to Raymond Morrogh, the Fairfax commonwealth’s attorney, the county’s chief prosecutor.