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Iraqi Immigrants in California Town Fear a Hate Crime in a Woman’s Killing

28 March 2012 New York Times 38 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Kassim Alhimidi wept over the body of his wife, Shaima Alawadi, at a prayer ceremony on Tuesday. She died after being found severely beaten in her home near San Diego.

Kassim Alhimidi wept over the body of his wife, Shaima Alawadi, at a prayer ceremony on Tuesday. She died after being found severely beaten in her home near San Diego.

Iraqi Immigrants in California Town Fear a Hate Crime in a Woman’s Killing


EL CAJON, Calif. — Shaima Alawadi’s family says they found the first note taped to the front door of their house on a quiet suburban street here. It said: “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist,” according to her 15-year-old son, Mohammed.

Ms. Alawadi’s husband, Kassim Alhimidi, says he wanted to call the police. But his wife said no, insisting the note was only a child’s prank. Like many others in the neighborhood, the couple were immigrants from Iraq. In 17 years in the United States, they had been called terrorists before, he said.

But last Wednesday, Ms. Alawadi was found in the family’s dining room by her 17-year-daughter, lying unconscious in a puddle of blood with a severe head wound. Nearby lay another threatening note, similar to the one the family found a week earlier.

Ms. Alawadi, 32, died three days later. The police caution against jumping to conclusions, saying they are still trying to determine whether she was targeted because of her religion or ethnicity, calling that just one possibility.

“At this point, we are not calling it a hate crime,” said Lt. Mark Coit of the El Cajon police. “We haven’t made that determination. We are calling it an isolated incident, because we don’t have any evidence of anything similar going on at this point.”

Whatever the police eventually determine, the crime has shattered the sense of security for Iraqi immigrants in El Cajon, exposing cultural tensions and distrust that have often simmered just below the surface since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Hanif Mohebi, director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that many Muslim women in the area were worried that Ms. Alawadi had been targeted because she wore a headscarf in public, as many observant Muslim women do.

“The majority of the community that wears scarves are concerned,” Mr. Mohebi said. He cautioned against a rush to judgment before the police had finished investigating. Still, he added, “the community has gone through some hate crimes before, and the assumption the people have is that they’re going through one now.”

Two decades ago, El Cajon, just northeast of San Diego, was largely white and English-speaking. But as wars in their homelands pushed more and more Iraqis and others to emigrate, the Middle Eastern population here has exploded. El Cajon now houses one of the largest Iraqi communities in the country. Middle Eastern groceries and restaurants dot Main Street, while on the sidewalks, many families stroll by speaking in Arabic.

Ms. Alawadi and her husband moved to the United States from Saudi Arabia in 1995 after fleeing Iraq during the first gulf war. They then had five children, and for the most part, Mr. Alhimidi said, their neighbors here made them feel welcome.

Still, even before this month, he was already familiar with the kind of language he says was on the notes left at his house.

“Some neighbors, I say ‘hi’ to them, and they just turn away,” Mr. Alhimidi said in Arabic, with his son Mohammed translating. “More than 95 percent of the time, I feel welcome. But once in a while, people shout at you. They shout ‘terrorist,’ or ‘go back to your country.’ ”

Most people in town lamented Ms. Alawadi’s killing as a tragedy. Janet Ilko, a middle school teacher, said the news had come as a shock to students.

“It was upsetting to everyone,” Ms. Ilko, 47, said. “Our community is very close-knit. Our students get along very well. People have been here a long time.”

But tension between the newcomers from the Middle East and some of the town’s other residents was also readily apparent on Main Street, even this week. One woman, 30, who was at a park with her children and refused to give her name, called the city’s Iraqi residents “territorial,” adding, “maybe because we are at war with them.” She said her own background was Mexican, though she had grown up in Southern California.

>> Continue reading: Iraqi Immigrants in California Town Fear a Hate Crime in a Woman’s Killing


  1. <3

  2. sick people. so sad :'(

  3. This is just sick…People come to America because the want to be free of oppression…And this is what she got…Americans, hang your heads in SHAME…

  4. what is so frustrating is the police are acting like this is not a hate crime. there were notes, explicitly exemplifying hatred. they police need to handle this appropriately, and i do not think they are.

  5. This is so sad, I would like to know what part of those notes and her being attacked doesnt SCREAM hate crime?!?! We are all decendants of immigrants, (except the native americans) we are the great melting pot, people need to stop standing over the ‘pot’ trying to pick out the people they dont like! We are all races, we are all ethnicities, we are all religions…I want MY country back from the bigots and the racists that think they’re better than everyone else here! Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. May God be with her family and those who loved her.

  6. :'( no one deserves this, that poor family lost an important part of them because of hate…ugh I’m so disgusted right now!

  7. This is obviously a hate crime. How thick can these officers get?

    There were notes explicitly showing this hatred. Take it as an immigrant issue or religious/cultural one, the point is, is that this is hatred. The police need to do their jobs better.

    I can not believe this world sometimes.

  8. The family lost their mother what could be worse? I hope they find the killer and Americans stop being to racest to new comers, no one is an original American citizen everyone’s parents,grand parents or great grandparents came from another country,people need to get over it,no one is better then anyone. If this killer doesn’t pay now he will pay in front of the final Judge GOD!

  9. My deepest condolences to the Alawadi family on the loss of Shaima to an ignorant domestic terrorist. This is NOT the country I grew up in and this attitude of prejudice and ignorance is NOT the attitude of the great majority of americans.

  10. This is just so sad… 🙁

  11. America, its fanaticism and madness

  12. In paradise, God willing, Shaima

  13. This breaks my heart 🙁

  14. If an american get killed like this than they were try their best to find out those criminal but american authority not takin seriously bcoz an muslim was killed
    ..inna llila hi wa inn al ilayhi raje,un

  15. it is a hate crime , I found something that would explain why the FEDS arent doing anything about it – NO I am not saying this family who lost their mother had anything to do with it .

  16. Things like this make me ashamed of my country.


    “Despite a hate-filled note found at the murder scene of an Iraqi mother in California, police today are emphasizing that other evidence found during the investigation has them convinced the killing was an isolated incident that poses no danger to other Iraqis.

    Police in El Cajon, Calif., said they will still look into whether the murder of 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi could be classified a hate-crime, but Police Chief James Redman said that “based on the evidence thus far, we believe this is an isolated incident.””

    strange thing to say. clearly this redman (a white guy no doubt) is covering something up. what evidence could contridict a note, and the obviousness of why this was done. SHE WAS KILLED FOR WEARING A HEADSCARF. what else could it be. just like martin WAS KILLED FOR WEARING A HOODIE. just like the zimmerman/martin facebook has all the facts.

  18. Laura A. Lamb,

    anyone can write a note. it’s proof of nothing. it is a piece of evidence which may or may not have been planted to throw the investigation in the wrong direction. it’s like saying if the cops came on a dead body with a gunshot wound to the right temple and a discharged gun in the right hand. it must be a suicide.

  19. So very sad. What has the world/America come to? How has the country who built itself on immigrants become so anti-immigrant? My family came to this country in the 1700s they certainly were immigrants. How can people believe that they are more deserving of this country than people who are first generation Americans purely because they have been here longer? Americans are Americans wether they are first generation or 10th generation (like me).

    You may not agree with other people’s religion or their beliefs, though at the same time you still need to be respectful of their beliefs.

  20. looks like the feds are involved. and it looks like she has ties too detroit. omg lara you’re right, it must be related to the drug ring. jk i know you aren’t saying that. but that’s what these people who think they know the truth without knowing anything other then “two reported notes”. we found a note. no reason to question anyone. no reason to investigate. clearly the note is all we need to know. we have a note.

  21. THIS is an OUTRAGE!!! I know, work with and love my Muslim friends and anyone who tells me that they aren’t American and deserve to die… well, This murderer needs to go back where he came from… which is hell…

  22. She was killed because she was MUSLIM!!! And no other reason…

  23. Our troops fight and protect our freedom but here in own country we can’t even enjoy freedom without ignorant people killing a mother because of her race and religion.I am here serving to those who serve our country and proud of it…Who ever done it ,you have to remember God is not asleep….You will get your share..

  24. Most Americans are happy about the murder of this innocent woman because at least a muslim is death and when a muslim dies it creating peace therefore the world is more peaceful without muslims..!

  25. NO HATE!

  26. No one talks about it, but the KKK and the Minutemen are very strong in the greater San Diego area. They aren’t investigated because the SD County Sherriff’s Dept. is full of them.

  27. No one talks about it, but the KKK and the Minutemen are very strong in the greater San Diego area. They aren’t investigated because the SD County Sherriff’s Dept. is full of them.

  28. just proves El Cajon sux big time

  29. just proves El Cajon sux big time

  30. Farhan,

    You are right Muslim blood is cheap in our days! but al hamdoulillah there is judgment day. A Day no one will escape!!

  31. God… Oh my God…

  32. This is just disgusting.

  33. May Allah azawajel (God the exalted) bring peace and justice to the family she left behind. Dear family and friends, take solace in the fact that one day her murderer will be taken into account for his misdeeds and the wrong will be rectified in front of the Almighty, all powerful, all wise. Indeed he is the most merciful, the most compassionate and hates injustice. Women in Islam are the Queens, backbone, heart and soul of the home and I’m sure she will be deeply missed by her children. You are in our prayers, and although I don’t know you personally you are my sister in faith and I love you for the sake of Allah and I know you are in a better place. Allah grant you his paradise and Mercy, Amen. You will be missed.

  34. The killing was most likely staged, the note faked, and the killer lives either within in the same house or is a member of the same extended family.

    The probability that some anti-immigrant type bothered to break into a small suburban home and bludgeon a random woman to death in order to make a point about his displeasure with Muslims is astronomically small.

    It’s palpable how people on this board are hoping against hope that this is the case, but know deep inside that it probably isn’t.

  35. Inna lilla hi wa inna elyhe rajayun.I am soooooo sorry.May Allah bless you,Shaima Alawadi. The innocent never can last. The least that can be done is to arrest and hang the terrorist responsible for this.It might not bring back a beloved mother and wife but it might save the life of another mother, another wife…

  36. And when exactly will it be called a hate crime? When some terrorist kills an entire family?

  37. farhan and salim,

    you should post an article like this to bolster your point.

    of course there is no way of knowing if the boat was full of muslims. but if we are all going to assume this killing was over a headscaf, assuming libyians are probably muslim seems a safe bet.

    Aaizah Khan,

    “And when exactly will it be called a hate crime?” when and if they determine it to meet the criteria of a “hate crime”. duh.

  38. @abdul… That sort of sentiment is the mirror image of the kind of thinking that led to this woman’s murder. Most Americans? Happy for the murder of a peaceful woman of Muslim faith? I beg you to stop being part of a cycle that only leads to feeding the fear, anger, hate, and eventually deadly confrontation. It is no less tragic, and shameful than the Trayvon Martin case, and MOST AMERICANS are as disgusted by this as you and most Muslims must be. Our recent history, on an international level is also as reprehensible to MOST AMERICANS, as it must be to MOST MUSLIMS. My America loves Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists and everything in between. Please don’t think for another moment that MOST AMERICANS are as horrible and hateful as the few that make the news. Salaam alakum (I can’t spell Arabic well, forgive me).

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