BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi-American woman who was beaten to death in her U.S. home in a possible case of hate crime was buried in her native Iraq on Saturday.
Relatives wept as the casket of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five, was taken to the Valley of Peace cemetery in the holy Shi‘ite city of Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Iraq’s capital Baghdad.
Alawadi was found unconscious in the dining room of her rented home in California last Wednesday by her 17-year-old daughter. She was taken to a trauma centre with a severe head injury and died last Saturday after being taken off life support.
The killing is being investigated as a possible hate crime because of a threatening note that was found near her, police say.
“The martyr (Alawadi) used to love all, she made no distinction between religions,” Alawadi’s father, Nabil, told Reuters.
“Her husband told me that someone threw a note saying ‘go back to your own country, you’re a terrorist’... Who is the real terrorist, Shaima, or them,” he said.
Alawadi’s casket, draped in an Iraqi flag, was flown into Iraq on Saturday. A police convoy transported the coffin to the shrine of Imam Ali, a central figure of Shi‘ite Islam, where prayers were held for Alawadi before she was buried.
Mourners carrying a banner calling for legal action.
“The motives behind the crime are racial ... We call on concerned Iraqi institutions such as the Human Rights Ministry, parliamentary committees and the Foreign Ministry to follow up on the crime and find the criminals,” Alawadi’s nephew, Haider Kadhim, said.
Alawadi lived in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, which, along with nearby areas, is home to some 50,000-60,000 immigrants and refugees of Middle Eastern descent.
If hate is confirmed as a motive in the killing, it would be the worst bias crime committed against Arabs or Muslims in years in the area, according to Sadaf Hane, civil rights director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Police say the region has not experienced violent hate crimes in the past.
The FBI is assisting the El Cajon Police Department in the investigation, and has provided agents from a squad that is specifically trained to conduct hate crime investigations, FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth said.
Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Alison Williams