The Southern California killings of four men of Iraqi descent and a Palestinian-born teen-ager, all within five days this month, have aroused concern in the Arab-American community.
The FBI says that it is monitoring the situation. But no evidence has come to light to connect the slayings in El Cajon, San Diego, Oceanside and a double killing in Lancaster between Aug. 18 and 22, and police agencies say that they know of no such links.
Arab community leaders note that the basis for their concerns is that at least three of the men were outspoken critics of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Moreover, federal authorities recently arrested an Iraqi national living in Modesto, charging that in 1990 he had plotted to kill anti-Saddam activists, one of them in California.
FBI spokesman John Hoos in Los Angeles said the bureau is “keeping contact with the various local law enforcement agencies which are involved.”
Nazih Bayda, executive director of the regional office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Los Angeles, said Thursday: “We are in contact with the authorities and have expressed our concern about the killings, and we are hopeful that the investigations will shed some light on what are the motives.”
Aware of suspicions that some in the Arab community hold toward law enforcement, Bayda added: “I presume that the families of the victims will cooperate fully with the authorities.”
Salam al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, said: “The people I’ve talked to about the killings think they are unrelated. But again, you can’t prove that. You have to look into all the possible sources of the crimes. . . . Sometimes, the truth won’t come out for a long time.”
Abrahim Talal Jalaby, leader of the American Iraqis for Democracy and Justice, an anti-Saddam group, said: “Our group is being very careful. The security issue is very, very important to us.” But Jalaby said he thinks that the Hussein government is too busy to undertake such missions here.
An Iraqi national, Andri Koshaba, 48, was arrested last month by federal agents in New York as he tried to re-enter the United States. A court hearing is pending in that case.
These killings are the subject of the Arab-Americans’ concerns:
* On Aug. 18, liquor store owner Thomas Mikael, 31, was slain at his El Cajon store. An employee, David Wartan, 17, was so critically wounded that he has been unable to talk to police. Cash was taken from registers, but $6,000 in an open safe was undisturbed. Three suspects, allegedly members of a Vietnamese gang based in Orange County, are in custody.
* On Aug. 20, Sabah Antwan, 38, affiliated with a Kurdish anti-Saddam group, was found murdered at his San Diego liquor store. Nothing was taken and investigators do not think it was a robbery but do not believe it is linked to the other killings. No one has been arrested.
* On Aug. 20, Rael Nebel Hamdi, 17, of Palestinian descent, was shot outside an Oceanside apartment complex. Christopher Mitchell, 23, the son of San Diego County Superior Court Judge Franklin Mitchell, allegedly shot Hamdi. He has said he fired in self-defense after being told that Hamdi was a prowler wielding a knife. He was questioned and released. The investigation is continuing.
* On Aug. 22, Mohammed Dahan and co-worker Ibrahim Alsehrewerdi, both 36, were murdered at a Lancaster car rental agency owned by Dahan. Some, but not all of the money in the building was taken. A black 1984 Chrysler LeBaron, license 2RGR856, stolen three months before from the agency, was used in the killings. Alsehrewerdi was a member of a prominent family in Iraq. Both Dahan and Alsehrewerdi, Arab community sources say, were politically active. No one has been arrested.
Patrick Hunter, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which is looking into the Lancaster murders, said:
“There is nothing concrete to tie all these together. Our investigators are continuing to work with the investigators from the other agencies who have had similar crimes to see if there is in fact some sort of tie.”
Law enforcement agencies in the El Cajon, San Diego and Oceanside killings said that so far there is no evidence of any connection.
Peter Deddeh, a deputy San Diego County district attorney and the son of state Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Bonita), the only Arab-American in the state Legislature, said his investigation of the El Cajon killing showed him it was “definitely not a conspiracy. . . . This is just a simple robbery, a Vietnamese group.”
As for the Antwan murder, he said there is “not enough information on that case to make a call one way or another.”