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Thousands attend funeral for Muslim students shot dead in Chapel Hill

13 February 2015 9:34

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Thousands of people in the United States have attended the funeral of three Muslim students shot dead by a middle-aged white man in North Carolina, demanding the deadly incident be investigated as a “hate crime”.

More than 5,500 people gathered on Thursday afternoon on a soccer field for the funeral of Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus killed in a brutal attack on Tuesday.

“It was the biggest funeral I’ve ever been to,” said Nisrin Shabin. “They kept coming, it was magical.”

At least 3,000 people attended a candlelit vigil on Wednesday night for the slain students at the University of North Carolina, called “gems of their communities” by their family members.

Families of the three, who were shot in the head by Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, said they were executed for their religion rather than being simply targeted by a criminal.

The father of the two female students shot dead told the crowd they were victims of a hate crime and his pain was indescribable. Mohammad Abu-Salha demanded that investigators treat the killing as a hate crime.

“I’ve talked to police, I’ve talked to lawyers,” he said, his voice choking with grief. “This has ‘hate-crime’ written all over it.”

Police say initial probes suggest the deadly attack stemmed from a dispute over parking space, but have not ruled out the possibility that hatred of Muslims had motivated the shooter.

A local attorney and a close friend of the male victim of Tuesday’s triple murder earlier said the parking lot story is just a fabrication of lies. “You don’t kill three people over a parking space.”

At the funeral, Sarah, who grew up with Deah and Yusor and Razan, said she has experienced Islamophobia. “You have to have a lot of hate in your heart to kill three people in cold blood, and over a parking spot, it’s ridiculous to say this was just that.”

According to reports, all three students were high achievers who regularly volunteered for charity work in the area.

Barakat was a second-year student at the University of North Carolina’s graduate school of dentistry, and his wife was planning to enroll in the same institution later this year. Her sister was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University who has won an award for her artistic talents.

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The killings in the town of Chapel Hill have sparked outrage at a deep-rooted anti-Muslim hostility in the US.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) slammed the biased media coverage given to the tragic incident.

ADC Legal Director Abed Ayoub said on Thursday US media reaction would have been 100 percent different if the perpetrators, rather than the victims, were Muslims.

Ayoub said the government, film industry and right-wing analysts are to blame for the recent rise of Islamophobia in the United States.

He said media need to show the impact of hate crime and hate speech against Muslims, stressing the recent movie “American Sniper” has only worsened things.

“This country needs to realize that acts of terrorism are not confined to a single religion or ethnicity,” he said. “This [Islamophobia] is something that needs to stop and we would like the media to pay more attention and cover this more to show the impact of hate crime and hate speech.”

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