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Chapel Hill Shooting of 3 Muslims a 'hate crime' says victims' father

Carolina police said the triple murder was the result of a parking dispute but the victims' family has rejected this explanation
Three young Muslims were killed on Tuesday in North Carolina (AFP)

Relatives of three young Muslims shot dead in North Carolina on Tuesday have rejected police statements suggesting that the trio were murdered over a parking dispute.

Craig Hicks turned himself into police after shooting dead Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha at their home in Chapel Hill.

Investigators said on Wednesday that they were looking into a motive for the killings, saying “an ongoing neighbour dispute over parking” could be behind the crime.

Police later said that Hicks was co-operating with the investigation, whose preliminary findings suggested that the parking dispute motivated the triple murder.

However, the father of the two sisters killed on Tuesday insisted that the shooting was a “hate crime,” saying Hicks had previously behaved threateningly towards his daughters and son-in-law.

“This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime,” Dr Mohammad Abu-Salha told reporters on Wednesday.

“[The shooting] was execution-style – a bullet in every head. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt”.

“They were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far”.

But Hicks's wife remained adamant that religion was not behind the slayings.

"I can say with my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or victims' faith," Karen Hicks told a press conference, maintaining that a "long-standing parking dispute" was to blame.

Abu-Salha’s daughter Yusor married Deah Shaddy Barakat, a dentistry student known for raising money for victims of Syria’s civil war, just over a month ago, and the pair lived near Barakat’s university with Yusor’s sister Razan.

The sisters’ father said on Wednesday that his daughter Yusor had complained about the family’s “hateful neighbour,” in reference to Hicks.

“Honest to God, [Yusor] said: He hates us for who we are and how we look,” Abu-Salha said.

Panicked passers-by who rang the emergency services described hearing “kids screaming” followed by between five and 10 gunshots, according to a call recording released by authorities on Wednesday.

In the wake of the shooting, many speculated that the crime was motivated by racism and Islamophobia.

Hicks, who appeared at a preliminary hearing on Wednesday dressed in an orange prison uniform, has posted anti-religion messages on his Facebook page.

He also recently published a photograph of his handgun, saying he had a speed-loading device to allow him to rearm the gun quickly and easily.