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El Cajon Iraqis Shaken After Deadly Beating

Aired 3/26/12 on KPBS News.

A 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant died Saturday, three days after she was discovered brutally beaten at her home in El Cajon. Indications of a possible hate crime have shaken residents of the city, which is home to thousands of Iraqi refugees.

A 32-year-old Iraqi immigrant died Saturday, three days after she was discovered brutally beaten at her home in El Cajon. Indications of a possible hate crime have shaken residents of the city, which is home to thousands of Iraqi refugees.

On Saturday, Shaima Alawadi's family took her off life support, and she died shortly after.

The mother of five had suffered multiple blows to the head with a large object. Police said her 17-year-old daughter discovered her in the kitchen on Wednesday, along with a threatening note.

The Police haven't released the text of that note, but Alawadi's daughter told a local TV station and a Muslim civil rights group that the note called her mother a terrorist and demanded she go back to her country.

The police have not ruled the murder a hate crime, but have said they are investigating the possibility.

Hanif Mohebi is director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations.

"In the past two to three months we have had some level of increase in at least reporting of hate crimes or discrimination and hate incidents within the San Diego County. We¹re still trying to figure out the reason why that may be," said Mohebi.

El Cajon has the nation's second largest community of Iraqis. Thousands have settled here, first in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and again since the war of 2003.

Tensions have occasionally flared here, as the modest city has had to accommodate the huge influx and the demand it's placed on city services and schools. But Iraqis have become a part of the fabric of this town, opening restaurants, convenience stores and bakeries.

So the daughter¹s description of the note has shocked many here – Iraqis and non-Iraqis alike.

On Sunday afternoon, Alawadi's cousin, Hussein Alawadi, stands in front of the family's home on a quiet residential street.

"She grow up with me, and from when she was kid to the last day in her life, she's very nice woman," said Alawadi.

But the interview is interrupted by David Peck, a neighbor.

"Just my thoughts are with you and your family at this time," said Peck.

He tells Alawadi he is shocked prejudice could have been a motive.

“I just want you to know that not everyone thinks that way. It's a very small few. Just like there were a very small few on 9-11 that did something, there are a small few like this who did something this heinous. They don¹t speak for all Americans,” said Peck.

But the crime has confused and even frightened some Iraqis.

Main Street Meat Market, located a few blocks away from Shaima Alawadi's home...
Enlarge this image

Above: Main Street Meat Market, located a few blocks away from Shaima Alawadi's home, where she frequently bought halal meat for her family.

On a commercial strip a few blocks away, people trickle through the Main Street Meat Market.

Ramez Kadhim, the shop owner's brother, says he is afraid. He arrived from Iraq just six months ago, and says Alawadi¹s murder has shattered his notion of what moving to the U.S. would mean.

"I'm afraid about my brother, about my sister. I'm afraid! Because someone like this one maybe kill me," said Kadhim.

But Bassam Yousif, the shop's butcher, steps out from behind the counter, where he says the murdered woman frequently bought halal meat for her family.

He said he's never felt discriminated against living in El Cajon, and still feels safer here than he did in Baghdad. But the murder still baffles him.

"They are a normal family and a simple family. Why? Those are our questions. Why they kill her? I don't know," said Yousif.

The police and the whole community will be looking for answers to that question in the days to come.

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Avatar for user 'Dothscribble'

Dothscribble | March 26, 2012 at 8:16 a.m. ― 5 years ago

Intertribal feud is their calling-card.
That card is handy with dummies as well. In this case its being used as a get-out-of-jail-free card by whom?

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | March 26, 2012 at 11:49 a.m. ― 5 years ago

Dothscribble, what are you talking about?

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | March 26, 2012 at 2:11 p.m. ― 5 years ago

Now this is a sad tragedy that does appear to be a hate crime. We should be seeing national media coverage and outrage in cities from coast to coast.

But no. Instead all we see is Al Sharpton whipping up crazed mobs over the death of Trayvon Martin (which might be self-defense and not a hate crime).

Could you imagine what would have happened if someone had broken into Trayvon's house, beat him to death with a baseball bat, and pined a note to him stating "go back to your country, you n---"? Cities would burn to the ground. But because this case involves an Iraqi, it barely makes the local news.

Where are you on this one Obama? Because the victim doesn't look like your daughters, you don't care? Shameful!

My sympathies to the Alawadi family.

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Avatar for user 'Studying_Nomad'

Studying_Nomad | March 26, 2012 at 4:14 p.m. ― 5 years ago

Jean: my sentiments exactly.

CaliforniaDefender: I understand what you’re trying to say, but there is a difference here. My heart goes out to both families and I would be interested in attending a vigil for the woman from El Cajon as well. We have even less evidence regarding the woman in El Cajon than we do for the boy from Florida. We don’t know who killed the woman, maybe it is a hate crime, maybe it is something else and covered up to look like a hate crime. We don’t know yet. We should allow the cops to do their job and in the meantime show both the Iraqi community and the family that regardless of the motives that we support them and are sadden by her death. If it is a hate crime we should show our community that we are not interested in that way of thinking or behaving.

As for the boy in Florida, I believe the race/emotional part of the tragedy is that it appears that the Police did not conduct a full investigation. People are upset that the shooter was believed at his word. It looks like the shooter took the law into his hands, and then the Police played the judge and jury and meanwhile the boy’s side was unquestioned. Are you seriously surprised that the black community is sensitive to what it looks like? Once again, we’ll see what the investigation reveals.

As for loud-mouthed community spokespeople, give it a few more generations and I’m sure the Muslim/Iraqi community will find their voice.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | March 26, 2012 at 5:16 p.m. ― 5 years ago


In the Alawadi case we have a note clearly indicating ethnic/nationalistic hatred. However, the authorities are still analyzing it as, like you said, it could simply be designed to throw off investigators.

In the Trayvon case, just because one individual is Hispanic and the other black, it doesn't automatically suggest a hate crime. In the Alawadi case, there is a clear suggestion of a hate crime which should understandably upset people. That does not exist with the Trayvon case, not to mention there is physical evidence and witnesses that support Zimmerman's claim that Trayvon attacked him.

I find your statement that "people are upset that the shooter was believed at his word" to fail as a justification for the outrage. Our entire judicial system is based on the premise that one is innocent until proven guilty. Thus, his word must be taken as truth until PROVEN wrong. Unless you prefer mob justice and wouldn't that be quite hypocritical for African-Americans to be engaged in?

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Avatar for user 'Studying_Nomad'

Studying_Nomad | March 26, 2012 at 5:35 p.m. ― 5 years ago

One would have to be arrested in order to be "proven guilty". The investigation was completed with a Shooters’ story and Witnesses that did not agree. It was my understanding that the courts are responsible for deciding guilt by using evidence. It’s hard for the courts to get involved when the Police just take someone’s word on it. I don’t think hate crime is being taken all that serious anymore, not since last week anyway. Race does play a roll in this case, which makes people all emotional.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 26, 2012 at 7:24 p.m. ― 5 years ago

CaDefender, I don't agree with your views on the Trayvon Martin case, but I do hares hare your thoughts that this case should be getting more attention.

It makes me very sad that such a hateful murder was committed right here in San Diego.

I think we can look at both cases and conclude our nation may have come a long way in terms of racism, but we still have a very long way to go.

**Both ** Trevon Martin and Shaima Alwadi's deaths have not only devastated their families, they have put fear in 2 minority populations in our country. A message has been sent to two groups of people that their lives are not as worthy as others, and I find that **unacceptible** as an American.

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Avatar for user 'Darrell_Hambley'

Darrell_Hambley | March 27, 2012 at 8:47 a.m. ― 5 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | April 14, 2012 at 4:56 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Just goes to show that all races have a dark side they need to come to terms with. I wouldn't be surprised if this gets swept under the rug because it's a lot easier to deal with a hate crime everyone believes to be committed by white people than to address an honor killing by family member.

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