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Saudi student’s death puzzles UK

Despite detaining one suspect, UK authorities say have no 'firm evidence' of the motivation behind her murder

Published: Updated:

The mysterious murder of Nahid al-Manea, a 32-year-old Saudi student who was found bleeding to death on Tuesday in a park in the UK town of Colchester, has puzzled UK police, who suspect that the killing may have been religiously motivated.

The police line of inquiry is directed around Manea’s distinctive clothing - reportedly an abaya (a black cloak worn by some Muslim women) and a colored headscarf, UK newspaper The Telegraph reported on Thursday.

And despite detaining one suspect so far for questioning- a 52-year-old man - UK authorities say have no “firm evidence” of the motivation behind her murder.

Adding to the mystery, police also say her murder holds “immediate similarities” with the death of 33-year-old James Attfield, stabbed more than 100 times in a nearby park this year, “but…also a large number of differences as well,” according to a local daily.

“Both victims sustained frenzied knife wounds,” said Detective Superintendent Tracy Hawkings.

“Both were on secluded paths in parks used by members of the public.”

“But there are differences such as gender and we can’t discount the possibility of hate crime,” she added.

“We are conscious that the dress of the victim will have identified her as likely being a Muslim and this is one of the main lines of the investigation but again there is no firm evidence at this time that she was targeted because of her religion,” the superintendent said.

A neighbor of Manea – who lives near where she was killed - told the UK newspaper the Daily Mail that she was surprised that the Saudi student had not been in a car that day, as was normal for her.

“I saw her every morning and she was always in a silver car. I can't think for the life of me why she didn't drive on Tuesday,” Jane Davies told the newspaper.

No firm evidence

While details of the circumstances surrounding Manea’s death and her time in the UK are still coming to light, sources told Al Arabiya News that she was “stabbed in the head and chest and was killed near the university where she studies. (Authorities) interrogated her brother Raed who accompanied her (to Britain) and released him on Wednesday 1:30 a.m.”

Sources also told Al Arabiya News that Manea “wasn’t robbed” as all her possessions were still with her when the police found her body.

Appealing for witnesses to come forward, Hawkings said that “there is a high likelihood” people would have been near the location of the “brazen, reckless attack” where she died.

The superintendent added that a post-mortem was currently scheduled.

“A forensic post-mortem is due to be carried out this afternoon to establish the cause of death but at this time it would appear that a knife or other bladed weapon was used in this attack.”

"The victim also suffered facial injuries but the cause of these has yet to be established,” she added.

Dead on the scene

The University of Essex described Manea - who was due to finish her studies in August - as “very hard-working and conscientious.”

Manea hailed from Saudi Arabia’s Najaf region and had traveled to Britain six months ago as part of the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program, sources said.

She had been taking a language course at Essex University ahead of starting a PhD program in life sciences.

The sources also told Al Arabiya News that Manea - who is reportedly the paternal cousin of a former Saudi minister - was killed while on her way to college and “wasn’t robbed” as all her possessions were still with her when the police found her body.

Snatched away

In response to her killing, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz said that his embassy was maximizing all efforts to follow up with the case.

In a telephone call to one of the woman’s brothers, the Prince Nawaf said he would be personally dealing with the case, and that his embassy was doing everything it could to speedily repatriate her body.

Omar Ali, president of the UK Federation of Student Islamic Societies, on Wednesday paid tribute to Manea.

“My heart sank after hearing the traumatizing news an innocent life had been brutally snatched away,” he said, according to The Telegraph.

“This is the saddest piece of information I have received in all my years of activism in the student sector.”

“This isn’t the first attack on a Muslim student and certainly is not the last on a member of the Muslim community in the UK,” he added.