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Man accused of killing Muslim girl to be charged with capital murder

Though police have ruled out religious bias as a motive in the incident, Nabra Hassanen's family say she was a victim of religious violence
A police booking photo of the suspect, Darwin Martinez Torres (AFP)

A man who killed a 17-year-old Muslim girl walking home from her local mosque in the state of Virginia will be charged with capital murder on Monday, authorities said.

Prosecutors say that Darwin Martinez Torres raped and killed Nabra Hassanen after having an argument with her and her friends while they were walking back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Mosque in Fairfax, Virginia. He allegedly chased the group in a truck and with a baseball bat, and then abducted Hassanen.

Even though police have ruled out racial or religious bias as a motive in the incident, Hassanen's family say she was a victim of religious violence.

The authorities’ determining the motive of the murder as “road rage” drew comparisons with the February 2015 fatal shooting of three young Muslims by their neighbour in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Police had said a parking dispute led to the incident then - a claim widely rejected by Muslim advocates who believed the murder to be a hate crime.

Sawsan Gazzar, Hassanen’s mother, said she believes her daughter’s religion and appearance should not be discounted as a factor in the crime. The victim was wearing a hijab and an abaya - traditional Islamic dress.

“I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she’s Muslim,” Gazzar told the Washington Post in June. “Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged a hate crime probe into the incident.

“As we grieve for Nabra’s loss, we also urge law enforcement authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of a possible bias motive in this case, coming as it does at a time of rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate attacks nationwide,” CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said in a statement back in June.