ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Iraqi Catholic refugee who was assaulted in her Albuquerque apartment appears to be the victim of a hate crime by an attacker who yelled obscenities about Muslims, police said.
According to Albuquerque police, a man last week forced his way into the home of Seham Jaber, shouting nasty remarks about Muslims and punching her in the head and stomach. The intruder then tore up her family's citizenship papers in the June 5 attack, investigators said.
"The irony is the individual thought the family was Muslim, and they're actually refugees from Iraq who are Catholic," Albuquerque police spokesman Simon Drobik said.
Jaber, who speaks Arabic, told police the unknown assailant also stole at least $20,000 in gold, which represented her family's life savings. The assailant also stole jewelry, she said.
"No house, no car. It was all in gold," Saad Sajet, Jaber's husband, told the Albuquerque Journal.
The suspect was described as wearing a mask, jeans and a yellow T-shirt.
No arrest has been made.
The FBI now is investigating the case as a possible federal hate crime, Albuquerque police said Friday.
Jaber, her husband and three sons came to Albuquerque in 2008 as refugees. The family fled Iraq to Syria shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 after militants began to target the country's religious minorities, such as Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans.
Those religious minorities have fled to different parts of the world as refugees, including the U.S. But advocates say many of those refugees in the U.S. often get mistaken for Muslims and, sometimes, even face pressure from American Muslims to convert to Islam.
There were an estimated 2 million Iraqi Christians of various denominations before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Now that number is below 450,000, various refugee groups said.
If the exodus of Iraqi Christians continues, one of the world's oldest Christian communities may soon cease to exist, refugee advocates said.