Chapel Hill shooting: Community groups call for hate crimes inquiry as FBI announces 'parallel probe'

Groups say President Barack Obama has yet to denounce the killing

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The Independent US

More than 100 religious and community groups, including those made up of Muslims, Sikhs and Arabs, have called on the Obama administration to open a hate crimes inquiry and publicly denounce the shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill.

A letter signed by the groups and addressed to Eric Holder, the US Attorney General and America’s top law enforcement official, calls for the Department of Justice “to open a full and rigorous federal hate crime investigation and to publicly condemn this heinous attack”.

The demand from the different organisations comes as the Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI announced it was was launching a separate, parallel investigation into the shooting.

Craig Hicks, 46, has been charged with three counts of murder after the shooting on Tuesday night of students Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Abu-Salha. All three were shot at close range in the head.

The victims of the shooting, from left to right: Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue has said that an initial investigation by his officers has suggested that a long-simmering dispute over parking may have been the trigger for the shooting, rather than it being a hate crime. He has said, however, that police are also looking at other possible motives, including that of racial or religious discrimination.

Mr Hicks’ wife has also told reporters she did not believe the killing was motivated by the religion or ethnicity of the three students.

Many have not been satisfied with the police’s proclamation. The father of the two women who were killed has claimed the shooting was a hate crime while Muslim and Arab activists have suggested there is a growing wave of Islamaphobia in the US, partly the result of the movie American Sniper, which tells the story of Christopher Kyle.

Namee Barakat, father of shooting victim Deah Shaddy Barakat, cries as a video is played during a vigil

According to Buzzfeed, the letter addressed to Mr Holder says the circumstances surrounding the shooting “warrant a federal hate crime investigation”.

“Federal leadership is necessary in this case in order to send the strongest message to the public that acts of violence like these have no place in a civil society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” it says.

It adds: “This would be the first time, to our knowledge, that a US Attorney General has held a press conference to announce a federal investigation or indictment of a potential hate crime against members of the American Muslim, Arab, Sikh or South Asian communities.”

On Thursday evening, the FBI said it was launching its own probe into the killing of the three students. “The FBI has also opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case,” the bureau said in a statement.

Vigil for chapel hill.jpg
The shooting of three students in Chapel Hill has sparked vigils across the US, including one in Washington DC

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, welcomed the announcement from the FBI. “This case is quickly becoming a touchstone for the American Muslim community's sense of security and inclusion,” the group said.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama found himself being criticised by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said politicians were responsible for events in their countries.

Speaking on a visit to Mexico, Mr Erdogan criticised Mr Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and US Vice-President Joe Biden for not having made any statement about the murder of the three Muslim students.

“If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you,” he said, according to reports. “As politicians, we are responsible for everything that happens in our countries and we have to show our positions.”