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Saudi student death in UK allegedly linked to Islamophobia

Police believe Saudi PhD stabbed to death in Britain's Essex may have been targeted for religious reasons due to her Muslim dress
Muslim women wearing Muslim dress and head scarf (AFP)

The death of a Saudi PhD student after being stabbed in a park in Colchester, Essex has been linked to Islamophobia as she was wearing Muslim dress and head scarf.

The Saudi embassy confirmed the student's name as Nahid Almanea, 31, who was considered ‘quiet and considerate’ by fellow students and teachers. She was found bleeding on a footpath at 10.40 on Tuesday.

While investigators are not able to verify the exact reasons behind her death, Almanea’s Muslim dress has led police to believe that she may have been targeted for religious reasons.

Officers are however also looking into links with the murder of James Attfield, a vulnerable man that suffered brain damage, who died after being stabbed more than 100 times at a park in the same town in March.

‘There are some immediate similarities between this murder and that of James Attfield but there are also a large number of differences, said Detective Superintendent Tracy Hawkings. 

Almanea had been in the UK for only six months, taking an English language course at the University of Essex ahead of starting her Phd in life sciences.

When paramedics appeared on the scene, she was bleeding to death with injuries all over her body and face. Almanea died on the scene. 

A 52-year-old man from Colchester has been arrested in connection with the incident.

‘She was a quiet, considerate and well-respected member of programme and had ambitions to move on to further academic study,” said Richard Barnard, head of the University of Essex’s International Academy.

Omar Ali, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies said, “This is the saddest piece of news I have had the displeasure of receiving. Our sincere prayers with our sister who has been murdered and we extend our sincerest condolences to her family.”

Fayaz Mughal, director of the anti-Muslim monitoring group TELL MAMA told MEE: “We are shocked and saddened at the brutal murder of Nahid and the impact of her death has been significantly felt within Muslim communities in the UK. We are still waiting to see whether this murder was based on anti-Muslim hate, though our work in TELL MAMA has shown that it is visible Muslim women, (those who wear the Hijab or the Hijab and the Niqab), who sadly are the ones mainly targeted at a street level for anti-Muslim hate in the forms of comments, abuse, spitting and occasionally through assaults.” 

Hawkings said officers are still investigating the motive of the attack.

“We are conscious that the dress of the victim will have identified her as likely being a Muslim and this is one of the main lines of the investigation but again there is no firm evidence at this time that she was targeted because of her religion,” she explained. 

Since the footpath is usually a busy thoroughfare many people use to reach the university, detectives believe that there is a likelihood for witnesses to have been present at the time of the attack.

Detectives are appealing to witnesses who used the footpath between 8.30 – 11 am.

A forensic post-mortem will be carried out on Tuesday afternoon to establish the cause of the death, although statements by police refer to a knife or other bladed weapon to have been used. There are no further details about the weapon used in the attack.

Police cordoned the area where the incident took place and university students have been warned to stay vigilant while walking through town.