RELIGION

Saudi Arabia condemns 'terrorist' killing of American Muslims in North Carolina

  • Farris Barakat, center, remains on his knees after prayer during a funeral service for his brother Deah Shaddy Barakat, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C. Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were killed Tuesday at a condominium in Chapel Hill, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Corey Lowenstein)

    Farris Barakat, center, remains on his knees after prayer during a funeral service for his brother Deah Shaddy Barakat, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, in Raleigh, N.C. Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were killed Tuesday at a condominium in Chapel Hill, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Corey Lowenstein)  (The Associated Press)

  • Women mourn near the graves of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salh, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, in Wendell, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder for their deaths near the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus Tuesday. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy)

    Women mourn near the graves of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salh, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, in Wendell, N.C. Craig Stephen Hicks was charged with three counts of first-degree murder for their deaths near the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus Tuesday. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy)  (The Associated Press)

Saudi Arabia on Sunday condemned the killing in North Carolina of three American Muslim college students as a "heinous terrorist" act, and called for an end to incitement against Muslims.

The statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency also condemned as a "terrorist" act the recent attacks that killed two people in Denmark, one at a panel discussion that included an artist who caricatured the Prophet Muhammad and the other outside a synagogue.

In neighboring Qatar, several thousand people held a march Sunday in the capital Doha in solidarity with the families of the North Carolina victims. The marchers appealed for protection against hate crimes for the tens of thousands of young Arabs studying in the United States on scholarships funded by the energy-rich governments of the Gulf.

Deah Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were killed on Tuesday by their neighbor Craig Hicks, 46, an avowed atheist who was a vocal critic of all religions. Family members say all three were shot in the head at the newlywed couple's home, though police aren't saying exactly how the three victims died.

The victims' relatives are pressing for hate-crime charges against Hicks, and the FBI is now involved and investigating possible motives. Local police initially said a parking dispute sparked the murders and the U.S. attorney for the region described it as "an isolated incident."

However, the day after the attack, the pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world, al-Azhar, described the murders as a "cowardly terrorist act."

Al-Azhar, which is based in Cairo, said it was deeply concerned that the killings appeared to have been prompted by "racism and Islamophobia."

Similarly, the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world's largest bloc of Muslim countries, said the murders heightened international concerns about "rising anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobic acts" in the United States.