EL CAJON, Calif. — Eight months after the beating death of an Iraqi-American woman that drew international attention because it appeared to be a hate crime, the woman’s husband has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.
Police in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon announced the arrest Friday of Kassim Alhimidi, 48, and described the killing as an act of domestic violence.
The March killing of 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi made waves around the world after the couple’s 17-year-old daughter told reporters that she found a note by her mother’s bludgeoned body that read: “Go back to your country, you terrorist.”
But the case took a wholly different direction on Thursday when Alhimidi was taken into custody after being called into the police station, said El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman, who declined to comment on the evidence or elaborate on a possible motive but said there were no other suspects.
“Criminal investigations build, evidence builds, and you reach a point where you have enough evidence to move forward, and that’s what happened in this case,” he said.
Alhimidi went to Iraq for about two weeks to bury his wife and returned voluntarily, Redman said. Police did not try to prevent him from leaving the country because he was not a suspect at the time.
At the burial in Najaf, relatives wept uncontrollably. Alhimidi and the 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, fainted as the body was lowered into the grave.
Kassim Alhimidi was publicly silent for six days after the body was found, while his children spoke often with reporters. In his first public remarks — made at a news conference at the family’s mosque in Lakeside — he demanded to know what motivated the killer.
“The main question we would like to ask is what are you getting out of this and why did you do it?” Alhimidi said in Arabic as his 15-year-old son translated.
Charges against Alhimidi were expected to be filed Tuesday, said Tanya Sierra, a spokeswoman for the San Diego County district attorney’s office. She didn’t know if Alhimidi had an attorney.
The killing shocked residents of El Cajon, an east San Diego suburb and home to one of the largest enclaves of Iraqi immigrants in the United States.
Police initially said the threatening note meant they had to consider the killing a possible hate crime but stressed that was only one theory. They said there was other evidence and that the slaying was an isolated case, easing concerns that other immigrants could be targets.
Alawadi, a mother of five, left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising. She lived in Saudi Arabian refugee camps before coming to the U.S., according to Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, Mich. Saddam’s troops hanged Alawadi’s uncle.
The family arrived in the Detroit area in 1993 and later moved to San Diego. Shaima Alawadi was a religious Shiite Muslim who wore a hijab.
Alawadi’s father, Sayed Nabeel Alawadi, is a cleric in Iraq, Al-Husainy, a close family friend, said shortly after the killing.
The investigation appeared to hit a snag when a court employee inadvertently gave a U-T San Diego reporter a search warrant affidavit that a judge had ordered sealed. The document said detectives found a text message sent from the 17-year-old daughter’s cellphone that read, “The detective will find out tell them cnt talk.”
The affidavit, which was released to the newspaper while the family was in Iraq for the burial, showed Fatima Alawadi was upset about a pending arranged marriage to a cousin. She told police that she was in her bedroom when she heard her mother squeal and glass break.
The affidavit also said Alawadi wanted to get a divorce and move to Texas.
Redman said detectives were in contact with Kassim Alhimidi during the investigation. The police chief declined to say what authorities told him when they asked him to come to the police station Thursday.
Redman said he never doubted that Alhimidi would return from Iraq after burying his wife.
“We believe he came back because he lives here,” he said.