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North Carolina Muslim Community In Shock Following Deadly Shooting

"Everyone is in disbelief" following the attack that killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, a student leader told BuzzFeed News.

Posted on February 11, 2015, at 11:28 a.m. ET

Ayoub Ouederni was studying Tuesday afternoon when he checked "Overheard at UNC," a Facebook group documenting conversations heard around campus. That's where he first learned about a shooting near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Ouederni, who is vice president of the Muslim Student Association at UNC, was shocked to find out the three victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were active members of the Muslim community.

"Everyone is in disbelief," he said. "Everyone loves Deah, his wife, and her sister. They were outstanding members of the Muslim Student Association."

Ouederni points to Barakat's Facebook page, which shows him volunteering for the homeless and providing free dental supplies to show "what kind of a guy he was."

Police are investigating if the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim bias — many have speculated on Facebook pages dedicated to the victims and on Twitter that it was. But members of the Muslim community in Chapel Hill and its surrounding neighborhoods said they've have not experienced religious hate.

"Here at UNC, fortunately, we have excellent relations with the community at large," said Ouederni. "That's why [the shooting] was such a shock and surprise."

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the local police department is using all resources to determine whether hate was a motivating factor in the shooting.

"Our community has been rocked by a horrible crime with the shootings of three young people," he said in a statement. "I share strong feelings of outrage and shock with my fellow citizens and University students -- as well as concerned people everywhere. We do not know whether anti-Muslim bias played a role in this crime, but I do recogznie the fear that members of our community may feel. Chapel Hill is a place for everyone, a place where Muslim lives matter."

Nashid Lateef, vice chairman of the Islamic Association of Raleigh, echoed Ouederni's disbelief.

"Basically everyone is shocked," he said. "That's the feeling right now. This is something we're not used to happening."

Lateef said he could not recall any previous incidents targeting Muslims in Raleigh and the surrounding areas, which boasts approximately 38,000 Muslims.

Lateef said the Islamic Association of Raleigh is weighing the situation and assessing how it relates to them.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization in the United States, issued a statement calling for law enforcement to quickly release a motive for the attack.

"Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. "Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loves ones of the victims and to the local community."

Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization, issued a statement calling on both President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to publicly condemn the attack. They're also asking Holder to announce an federal investigation into the crime.

While the Muslim community in North Carolina said they have not experienced religious bias, CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said he's seen a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric in the country.

"You have to wonder if there's a connection," he said, adding that since the attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris in January, he has personally received dozens of hate calls and emails, as well as death threats.

"And that's just me," he said. "You can imagine what it's like around the country."

Getty Images / Sara D. Davis

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