EL CAJON, Calif. -
An Iraqi man whose wife was fatally beaten in their East County home last spring in what appeared to be a possible anti-Muslim hate crime was in custody Friday on suspicion of murdering her.
El Cajon police arrested Kassim Irzoqi Alhimidi, 48, on Thursday, according to jail records. He was being held without bail pending arraignment, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Alhimidi's wife, 32-year-old Shaima Alawadi, was found mortally wounded in their Skyview Street residence on March 21. A threatening note had been left "very close" to where she lay, Lt. Mark Coit said.
Police have declined to reveal the contents of the message, but the couple's 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, told reporters it read, in part, "go back to your country, you terrorist." Alawadi, a homemaker and mother of five, died of head injuries in a hospital three days later.
The grieving teen told news crews her mother had been bludgeoned with a tire iron.
From the outset of their investigation into the slaying, police said they considered ethnic animosity only one of the potential motives.
"After months of hard work ... we determined that this homicide was the result of domestic violence and not the result of a hate crime," El Cajon police Chief Jim Redman said during a briefing Friday afternoon.
Alawadi, who left her native country with Alhimidi in the 1990s to avoid running afoul of dictator Saddam Hussein, apparently had been planning to get a divorce and move with their sons and daughters to Texas, where other members of her family live, her brother told a local media outlet.
Fatima Alhimidi's best friend told 10News the news of Kassim Alhimidi's arrest was shocking and devastating to the family. The friend also said the family feels justice has been done, even before a trial has begun.
One day after the slaying, 10News spoke with Fatima Alhimidi. Her father was at her side, and 10News video showed that he appeared to be crying. Then, within a week, Kassim Alhimidi was in Iraq for his wife's funeral and video there showed him collapsing in apparent grief.
Within two weeks, Alhimidi returned to El Cajon. Redman said when he left, he was not a suspect or a person of interest.
10News asked the chief why it took nearly eight months to make an arrest.
"There were many aspects of this case that we needed to look into. There were cultural aspects that we needed to look into, there were many witnesses and sometimes homicide investigations just take time," Redman said.
The victim, her husband and children had lived in the El Cajon home only a few weeks, having recently moved from Michigan, according to family friends.
Her husband had worked in San Diego as a contractor for the U.S. Army for a time, serving as a cultural adviser to train soldiers who were being deployed to the Middle East. At the time of the slaying, he reportedly was on disability and not working.
At a March 27 memorial attended by religious dignitaries, dozens of mourners and a representative of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Alhimidi called on anyone with information about the deadly assault to come forward.
"If anyone knows anything about the murder, please don't be shy, and pass information to authorities," the seemingly distraught man said in Arabic, with his youngest son, Mohammed, 15, translating his statements into English. "The main question we would like to ask is: Why did you do it, and what are you getting out of this?"
During Friday's news conference, the police chief thanked the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and local mosque leaders for "helping us reach out to our Muslim community members" during the eight-month homicide investigation.
"Because (the victim's) family is Muslim, we recognized that the mention of a hate crime would certainly cause concerns in our Muslim community," Redman said.
Hanif Mohebi, head of the San Diego chapter of the CAIR, said, "Our ultimate goal has been to get justice for sister Shaima Al-Awadi. That has been the most important thing for us."
He went on to remind everyone that Alhimidi is innocent until proven guilty.
Fatima Alhimidi is now 18, but Redman said her younger brothers and sisters are now in protective custody.