Nabra Hassanen , a 17-year-old Muslim girl from Virginia was assaulted outside a mosque and then disappeared, only to be discovered, dead, later that day.
Hassanen was reportedly leaving her mosque with friends early Sunday morning to go have a pre-dawn meal before beginning the all-day fast for Ramadan. Some reports have said the teenagers were leaving the mosque, others say they were leaving the restaurant and heading back to the mosque. At some point, they were confronted by a driver, now identified as 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres around 4 am who was driving along the road where they were walking and riding bikes. Police report that Torres got out of the car at that point with a bqat in his hand, swinging it around, likely toward the kids. Reportedly, Hassanen’s friends were dispersed by leaders of a local Muslim community center but Hassanen was left behind and subsequently disappeared.
This has led police to conclude that the assault, kidnapping and murder was likely a result of road rage, a conclusion family, friends, others in the Muslim community and their alliesreject.
Torres was reportedly arrested for driving suspiciously prior to the discovery of Hassanen’s body in a nearby pond sometime around 3 in the afternoon. Reports indicate that a bat may have been found near the body and some reports allege that the cause of death was likely bludgeoning. There has been no official autopsy and therefore Hassanen’s cause of death is still undetermined.
Torres is reportedly from El Salvador and may be in the US illegally, adding further complication to the question of whether or not this was a hate crime. According to the Virginia hate crime law, hate crimes is defined as “(i) a criminal act committed against a person or his property with the specific intent of instilling fear or intimidation in the individual against whom the act is perpetrated because of race, religion or ethnic origin or that is committed for the purpose of restraining that person from exercising his rights under the Cosntitution or laws of this Commonwealth or of the United States, (ii) any illegal act directed against any persons or their property because of those persons’ race, religion or national origin, and (iii) all other incidents, as determined by law-enforcement authorities, intended to intimidate or harass any individual or group because of race, religion or national origin.”
The means of determining the perpetrator’s intent is the difficult part in hate crime scenarios. Hassanen and her friends were wearing abayas, which are cloak-like over-dresses that cover the entire body; in photographs, Hassanen is also wearing a niqab to cover her hair. In addition to her attire and proximity to the mosque, there have been an increase in Islamaphobic attacks throughout the US and worldwide in recent months. Many consider the surge in violence targeting Muslims and other persons of color in the US specifically as a result of the election and rhetoric of Donald Trump.
Muslim leaders and Hassanen’s loved ones reject the idea that this was merely an act of road rage. The AP reports: “Rabia Chaudry, a lawyer and Muslim activist who lives in the Washington suburbs, ridiculed the notion it was road rage, saying on Twitter: ‘If you think for a minute that her appearance had nothing to do with this crime, you’re lying to yourself.’”
Vigils are being planned to honor Hassanen throughout the country Tuesday evening and her funeral has been planned for Wednesday. The Counsel for American-Islamic Relations encouraged Muslim communities to increase their own security measures during Ramadan.
There was also an attack on Monday in London when a man reportedly drove his van into Muslims worshipping outside their mosque; nine people were injured in that incident and the man has been charged with terrorism.