Terrorist Strikes Chapel Hill Campus, Leaving Three Dead

Police officers in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday. The authorities reported that three victims of a terror attack were pronounced dead at the scene. Credit: Al Drago/The News & Observer, via Associated Press.

By Kyle Chayka

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In a brazen and methodical terrorist attack on a quiet neighborhood near the campus of the University of North Carolina, an American man assassinated three young Muslims on Tuesday evening. The victims of the attack were husband and wife Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad as well as Mohammad’s sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. All three were students.

The alleged killer Craig Stephen Hicks shot his victims execution-style in the back of the head before turning himself in to the police. He is now being held in the Durham County Jail. “Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue said in a statement.

Early reports trace the cause of the terrorist attack to an “ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” according to the police statement. Yet the father of the two women killed, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, has called the murders a “hate crime,” reports the local News Observer. According to Abu-Salha, Hicks had behaved threateningly toward his daughter while carrying a gun in his belt. Yusor Abu-Salha told her father, “He hates us for what we are and how we look,” he said.

Left: The three victims, Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 / Right: Alleged terrorist Craig Stephen Hicks

The Chapel Hill incident has caused anger and fear in the Muslim community. American Muslims are left with concerns that terrorist acts perpetrated by extremist groups like ISIS abroad are creating an atmosphere of violence around their religion even at home. Echoing the outcry after killings of African Americans by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter is collecting impassioned responses mourning the three victims.

Responding to the act of domestic terrorism, the hashtag bemoans both the killings and the lack of response the murders have received in the media given the identities of the attacker and his targets. “Would they call him a terrorist, too? I don’t think so,” one tweet reads. The White House has not yet issued a public response on the terrorist attack.

Barakat was a doctoral student in the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry who was leading an initiative called Project: Refugee Smiles which would bring dental students to Turkey to aid Syrian refugees. Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha were married on December 27; in photos of the bride from the wedding she wears a traditional headscarf atop a flowing white gown.

“It’s so freaking sad to hear people saying we should ‘kill Jews’ or ‘kill Palestinians’. As if that’s going to solve anything,” Barakat tweeted in January.

Hicks appeared in court on Wednesday morning and requested a public defender. On his Facebook account, the terrorist attacker often promoted atheism as a solution to religiously motivated violence.

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