The husband of an Iraqi-American woman who was beaten to death near San Diego in March in a killing initially probed as a possible anti-Muslim hate crime has been arrested for her murder, police said on Friday.
Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was found bludgeoned to death in her home in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, home to a large Arab-American population, and died of her injuries several days later.
A threatening note found at the scene suggested Alawadi might have been targeted because of her ethnicity. In a sign of how closely the case was being watched, the U.S. State Department expressed condolences for her death, and Iraqi government officials attended her funeral in Iraq.
A friend of the family, Sura Alzaidy, told the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper at the time that the note found near Alawadi read: "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist."
While police at the time said they were considering hate as a motive, they warned against definitively drawing such a conclusion. Court papers filed in the case later painted a portrait of a family in turmoil.
"There was not somebody running around doing hate crimes. This was a domestic violence incident," El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman told a news conference to announce the arrest.
San Diego County jail records show that Alawadi's husband, 48-year-old Kassim Alhimidi, was arrested by police on Thursday for first-degree murder, and was being held without bail.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in April, a relative of Alawadi told detectives that she had "been planning on divorcing her husband and moving to the state of Texas." Divorce papers were found in her car.
Further complicating the troubled emerging portrait of the family were indications the couple's 17-year-old daughter had felt pressure to marry her cousin against her will.
It was the daughter, home at the time of the attack, who discovered her mother unconscious and bleeding on the floor of the family home after Alawadi was struck at least six times by a heavy object, suffering at least four skull fractures.
The daughter told police at the time that she heard her mother squeal, followed by the sound of breaking glass, which she took to be her mother dropping a plate. Ten minutes later, she said she discovered her mother on the floor, and called 911.
Alawadi and her husband arrived in the United States in 1993. She was buried in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Iraq's capital, Baghdad.
"We have faith in our judicial system, and we pray for justice for Shaima Alawadi," Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Diego chapter, told reporters. "This is a family tragedy."
El Cajon is in the heart of east San Diego County, which is home to the second largest Iraqi community in the United States, behind Detroit. More than half of El Cajon's 100,000 residents are of Middle Eastern descent.
(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)