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Thousands mourn slain US Muslim students

Authorities say the triple homicide may have been motivated by dispute over parking, but the victims' religion, as well as alleged comments the shooter made online, sparked speculation of a hate crime
Thousands of mourners turned out Thursday for the funeral of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (Twitter)

By Mustafa Caglayan

NEW YORK, United States - Thousands of mourners attended the Thursday funeral of three Muslim students who were shot dead at their home in the US state of North Carolina.

After a private ceremony with family members at an Islamic center in Raleigh, the funeral moved across the street to the soccer field owned by North Carolina State University, where two of the victims had graduated and one was a student.

Police estimated the service drew a crowd of at least 5,500.

Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were fatally shot Tuesday in Chapel Hill. The accused, Craig Stephen Hicks, surrendered to police after the attack and has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Authorities said the triple homicide may have been motivated by "an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," but the victims' religion, as well as alleged comments the shooter made online, triggered broad speculation that the murders were a hate crime.

"This has hate crime all over it and I am not going to sit down," Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, father of the two women who were murdered, told the crowd at the ceremony. 

"Please involve the FBI. Please investigate," he said, adding that it was "about protecting all the other children in the USA."

The agency said it was assisting Chapel Hill police with processing evidence, and authorities did not rule out the possibility that religious hatred contributed to the murders.

Following the service, the three bodies were taken to the Islamic Association of Raleigh's Muslim cemetery in the town of Wendell, North Carolina. 

Barakat was a second-year student at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry, who was raising money on, an online fundraiser site, to provide dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. He raised approximately $15,000, but after reports of their deaths, the total has surpassed $250,000.

His wife, Yusor, was planning to begin her dental studies at the same school in the fall, and her sister, Razan, was a student at North Carolina State University.

A Facebook page in the alleged shooter’s name reportedly showed that he described himself as an "anti-theist" and a "gun toting" atheist. One of his last posts was a picture from the United Atheists of America asking “why radical Christians and radical Muslims are so opposed to each others’ influence when they agree about so many ideological issues,” local media reported.

A perceived lack of coverage in the wake of the murders by US media led to a massive social media campaign, with many users posting pictures of the victims using the hashtags #ChapelHillShooting, which has been used hundreds of thousands times since the incident, and #MuslimLivesMatter, a reference to the rallying call of protesters in the wake of high-profile killings of unarmed black men by police.

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