SAN DIEGO — The husband of an Iraqi immigrant fatally beaten in the family home in El Cajon has been arrested and charged in her death, police said Friday.
The killing in March was a case of domestic violence, not a hate crime, as a note found near the body had suggested, El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redman said at a news conference.
Kassim Al-Himidi, 48, was arrested Thursday night on suspicion of murder after being asked to come to the police station.
Al-Himidi’s wife, Shaima Alawadi, 32, the mother of five children, was found bludgeoned and unconscious March 21 and died three days later.
A note found by the couple’s 17-year-old daughter expressed animosity toward Iraqi immigrants, including the phrase “go back to your country” and a reference to the family as “terrorists.”
The possibility of a hate crime sent shock waves through the immigrant community in eastern San Diego County. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 immigrants from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries have settled in El Cajon, La Mesa and adjacent areas east of San Diego.
Crime statistics showed no history of hate crimes or overt hostility toward Iraqi immigrants in El Cajon, even during the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
During an intense seven-month investigation, police refrained from calling the beating a hate crime, citing other unspecified evidence.
Court records show Alawadi planned to divorce her husband and move to Texas to be with relatives.
“I hope this arrest further eases any concerns in our community,” Redman said. “Our investigators showed there was no one running around committing hate crimes.”
At a memorial service at the Islamic Center of Lakeside before accompanying his wife’s body to Iraq, Al-Himidi pleaded with the public for help finding his wife’s killer. Weeping uncontrollably, he threw himself on his wife’s linen shroud, which was covered with red roses.
“The main question we want to ask is: ‘What are you getting out of this? Why did you do this?’ ” Al-Himidi said in Arabic at the memorial.
The couple had come to the U.S. in the mid-1990s after living for two years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia. They had lived in Dearborn, Mich., before settling in El Cajon.
Redman declined to discuss what evidence led to the arrest or whether investigators believe the note was planted. He said that there were no other suspects and that no other arrests were anticipated.
Al-Himidi is set to be arraigned Tuesday.
Redman praised the local Muslim community for its patience and assistance during the investigation.
“From the beginning we wanted justice for Shaima Alawadi,” said Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who stood beside Redman at the news conference. “She has been a piece of our heart.”
The couple’s four minor children were taken into protective custody after their father’s arrest, Redman said. The daughter who found the body is now an adult.