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Killing of 3 Muslims in US sparks anger over alleged media hypocrisy

Activists have taken to social media to accuse the US media of hypocrisy over lack of coverage
The three students killed on Tuesday evening attended the University of North Carolina (Twitter)

A shooting in the US, which has reportedly left three Muslims dead in a North Carolina university town, has set social media buzzing over accusations major media outlets have failed to give the story adequate coverage.

According to local news media, police officers responded to a report of gunshots in Chapel Hill at 5:15pm (22:15 GMT).

Students Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21, both from Chapel Hill and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, from Raleigh, were all pronounced dead at the scene, according to local news reports. Some outlets described the killing as "execution-style."

Barakat was responsible for the Syrian Dental Relief program for Syrian refugee students in Turkey and had raised over $20,000 towards the program.

In January, he wrote on his Twitter account: "It's so freaking sad to hear people saying we should 'kill Jews' or 'kill Palestinians'. As if that's going to solve anything."

Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad married a month ago and photos of their wedding have been circulating since the killing.

In a statement, local police reported that a 46-year-old man, Craig Stephen Hicks, had been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and is being held in the Durham Country Jail after turning himself in. He due to make his first court appearence on Wednesday morning.

Police said “an ongoing neighbour dispute over parking” might have been the motivation for the killing.

“Our investigators are exploring what could have motivated Mr. Hicks to commit such a senseless and tragic act,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, according to CNN. “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.”

The shooting happened in a condominium complex off the University campus called Summerwalk Circle.

“It’s a very quiet community,” Bethany Boring, who lives in the complex, told local TV station WRAL. “It’s a lot of graduate and professional students. You know, professionals' families.”

The killings initially attracted very little attention in the US national press, although the New York Times, CNN and ABC have since written reports. The fact the killings featured low-down on the news agenda provoked an outpouring of criticism - particularly from activists and journalists with a Middle-East focus – who see it as an example of media disinterest in the lives of Muslims. 

Some attempted to start a #MuslimLivesMatter hashtag:

Activists speculated about a hate crime motive for the crime and were quick to point to the suspect’s Facebook page in which he apparently brands himself as an ‘anti-theist’, a term used by New Atheist proponents such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins that supposedly denotes someone “opposed to belief in the existence of a god".

Along Hicks’ Facebook banner photo was written:

“I don’t deny you your right to believe whatever you’d like; but I have the right to point out its ignorant and dangerous for as long as your baseless superstitions start killing people.”

Reaction on Twitter also saw numerous pastiches of the media response to killings carried out by Muslims.

Though the Twitter comments were intended as a satirical take on the way Muslim community leaders frequently find themselves called on to condemn attacks by Muslims, many claimed justification after New Atheist activists and writer Richard Dawkins tweeted out a condemnation of the attack:

Among the other images on Hicks' Facebook page was a photo of a gun in a holster, with the caption: "Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster, and five extra rounds in a speedloader."

A press statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called for "state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case".

Ibrahim Hooper, director of communications for CAIR, pointed out that in the current climate it was necessary to make the motive clear.

“The alleged perpetrator made anti-religion and anti-muslim statements on his Facebook page, where he posted a picture of his loaded handgun,” he told Middle East Eye.

“Given the rise of anti-Muslim hate rhetoric in American society, its only prudent to look at the possibility of a bias motive in the case.”

He cited a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US in recent months leading to increased community tensions.

“It's mainly since the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office and the recent brutalities of the Islamic State group, there’s been just a horrific uptake in anti-Muslim rhetoric," he said. "Just myself, I’m getting dozens of hate calls and emails, and even death threats."

“So you can imagine this is being replicated around the country."

However, he suggested that it would be "premature" to attack media coverage of the event, pointing out that the story broke in local news late in the evening.

A Facebook page has been set up for the victims called "Our Three Winners" which has been providing updates about funeral arrangements and encouraging the posting of tributes and memorials to the slain students.

One of the posts features a video of Deah Barakat in which he promotes his Syrian dental charity:

Hours after the murders, more than $8,200 had been donated to his campaign.

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