Community groups urge federal inquiry into Chapel Hill murders

Over 100 advocacy and community groups call on Department of Justice to launch hate crime investigation into murder of three Muslim students

Over 100 advocacy and community groups call on Department of Justice to launch hate crime investigation into murder of three Muslim students

NEW YORK - More than 100 advocacy and community groups called on the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday to launch a federal inquiry to investigate whether the murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina was a hate crime.

"The circumstances surrounding this incident ... warrant a federal hate crime investigation," the groups, representing America's Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Sikh and South Asian communities, among others, said in a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were fatally shot Tuesday in their home in Chapel Hill.

Local police have arrested their next door neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks and charged him with three counts of first-degree murder.

Authorities said an initial investigation pointed to "an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking" as the motive behind the killings, but the victims' religion triggered broad speculation that the murders were a hate crime.

The incident happened "in the wake of a disturbing rise in especially threatening and vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric and activities,” said the letter. "Federal leadership is necessary in this case in order to send the strongest message to the public that acts of violence like these have no place in a civil society and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

The FBI on Thursday announced it had launched “a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated related to the case.”

The incident and its handling by the authorities have also drawn international outrage, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticizing U.S. leadership for not having made any statement about the murders.

President Barack Obama on Friday denounced the "brutal and outrageous murders," three days after the incident.

"No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship," Obama said.

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