Three young Muslims killed by gunman in US

NEW YORK - A 46-year-old man was charged with the murder of three Muslim students who were shot and killed in the U.S. state of North Carolina, police said Wednesday.

Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were fatally shot Tuesday at the University of North Carolina’s residential complex in Chapel Hill.

The accused, Craig Stephen Hicks, surrendered to police after the attack.

Authorities said the triple homicide may have been motived by "an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," but the victims' religion in addition to alleged comments the shooter made online triggered broad online speculation that the murders were a hate crime.

A Facebook page in Hicks’ name reportedly showed he described himself as an "anti-theist" and condemned all religions. One of his last posts was a picture from the United Atheists of America with the caption, “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues,” local media reported.

"We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case," said Chapel Hill Police Department Chief Chris Blue during a press conference. "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly."

Meanwhile, a perceived lack of coverage of the murders by U.S. media led to a social media campaign, with many users posting pictures of the victims using the hashtags #ChapelHillShooting, which was the top trending global hashtag on Twitter as of 1 p.m. local time (GMT1800), and #MuslimLivesMatter, a reference to the rallying call of protesters in the wake of high-profile killings of unarmed black men by police.

"If the shooter had been Muslim then the situation would have taken over all news/media sites [sic]," tweeted Haya Barakat, a woman who claims to be a cousin of Deah.

“This is what media expressing himself, they are trying to stay away from barbaric attack because killer is non muslim #ChapelHillShooting" [sic], tweeted Syed Ajmal Kazmi.

Aura Ramdhan also took to Twitter. “So I guess if the killer is Muslim it's terrorism, but if the victim is Muslim it's not even worth a news story? #ChapelHillShooting.”

Other users compared the way the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris was covered in comparison to the North Carolina attack. "#ChapelHillShooting Charlie Hebdo gets attacked, it's terrorism. Three Muslim civilians get killed in their home, it's an incident," tweeted with Ahmed El-Sherief.

Barakat was a second-year student at the university’s School of Dentistry, who was raising money on YouCaring.com, an online fundraiser site, to provide dental relief to Syrian refugees in Turkey. He raised approximately $15,000, but after reports of their deaths, the total has surpassed $81,000.

Yusor was planning to begin her dental studies at the same school in the fall, and her sister, Razan, was a student at North Carolina State University, according to a police statement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the U.S., urged an investigation into the motive behind the shooting, as many Muslims on social media raised the issue of safety of Muslims in the country.

“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," the council’s National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency