Three Muslim Students Dead After Shooting Near University of North Carolina

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Police are investigating whether the shooting of the three Muslim students was racially charged

Three Muslim students are dead and a suspect is in custody after a triple homicide last night near the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The shooting occurred in a parking lot at an off-campus apartment complex. Witnesses say that the suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, a White male, fired five to 10 rounds, fatally wounding newlyweds Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, as well as Abu-Salha's 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Hicks is currently in police custody and has been charged with first-degree murder.

"These were three bright young stars, not only in the Muslim community, but in America," television host and family friend Wajahat Ali told the New York Times. "This should not be seen as a tragedy and loss just for the Muslim community; it should be seen as a tragic loss for the American community and the international community."

Though the Chapel Hill Police report that the attack stemmed from a parking dispute, others are questioning whether it was a hate crime against Muslims. The three students were all of Arab descent, and the two women wore traditional headscarves. Additionally, Hicks has displayed anti-religious sentiments via his Facebook page. 

"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," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, in a statement.

A statement from the chancellor of the University is expected later today.

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