Detectives are investigating whether a Saudi student was murdered in a frenzied knife attack because her traditional Islamic dress marked her out as a Muslim.
Nahid Almanea, a 31-year-old student at the University of Essex, was wearing a hijab and a full-length navy blue robe, called an abaya, when she was knifed to death on a footpath in Colchester on Tuesday morning. She died at the scene from injuries to her head and body, said police.
Ms Almanea arrived in Britain several months ago with her younger brother to study at the university, according to a fellow student.
The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, has spoken with Ms Almanea’s brother to express his condolences, the embassy said in a statement. The ambassador asked officials “to stand by the family of the deceased, and provide them with all necessary things in these circumstances”.
Nothing was stolen from Ms Almanea and police have asked residents living on the nearby Greenstead estate to check their bins for a discarded weapon. “We are also conscious the dress of the victim will have identified her as likely being a Muslim and this is one of the main lines of the investigation but again there is no firm evidence at this time that she was targeted because of her religion,” said Detective Superintendent Tracy Hawkings. A 52-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and was being held at a police station last night.
The university has a multinational population with more than 200 Saudi nationals, according to students. The Student Union has its own Saudi society to help members with “culture shock” and to promote the country’s culture, according to its website.
Students said there had been few previous problems with racism off campus but concerns were raised about crime around the estate where Ms Almanea was killed. The area has a number of student flats. The university said yesterday it was running a shuttle bus to areas off campus during the evening for concerned students. Police said there were extra patrols in the area.
“It’s a very big incident especially since it took place during the day and not at night,” said Abdul Razak, a linguistics student. “I know it’s a dangerous area.”
Officers are also looking at possible links with the murder of James Attfield, a vulnerable man with brain damage, who died after being stabbed more than 100 times at a park in the town in March.
“There are some immediate similarities between this murder and that of James Attfield but there are also a large number of differences as well,” said the detective. “There is no current known motive for this attack and we are keeping an open mind and exploring all possible avenues of investigation.”
In a statement, the university said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the young woman who died and we are deeply saddened by this tragic incident.”