A Saudi student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout died Monday afternoon after being attacked on a main thoroughfare near campus, police and school officials said.
Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, 24, was outside Topper’s Pizza in downtown Menomonie, Wis., where the university is located, early Sunday morning when he was assaulted by a suspect whom police described as a white male about six feet tall, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.
Shortly after, police found Alnahdi unconscious and bleeding from his mouth and nose. He was initially transported to Mayo Clinic Health System in Menomonie, then taken by helicopter to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, where he died of his injuries, police said.
Alnahdi was from Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, and had come to the Wisconsin university in 2015 to study business administration, the school said in a statement.
“Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go out to Hussain’s family in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, and his friends at UW-Stout,” Chancellor Bob Meyer said. “I want to make a personal appeal to anyone on campus or in the community who might have information that would help authorities locate the individual involved in the attack to come forward.”
Witnesses said that about 2 a.m. Sunday they saw a man attack Alnahdi on Main Street East, a main drag that runs along Lake Menomonie and is home to much of the city’s bar and restaurant fare, according to WEAU-TV. The attacker ran away, leaving Alnahdi unconscious and bloodied, the TV station reported. When police arrived, witnesses said, he regained consciousness before being taken away.
Police said in a statement that they have not made any arrests or identified a motive, but they are treating the incident as a homicide.
Almost immediately, Alnahdi’s death stoked fears that the assault may have been racially motivated.
“I absolutely loved teaching the Saudi students who have come to Stout,” Genesea M. Carter, an assistant professor in the university’s English and philosophy department, wrote on Facebook. “Now I am deeply worried about my Saudi students’ safety.”
Others said they were bracing for the worst.
“If this is a hate crime, we will need to rally in peace, Menomonie,” one user wrote. “The hate that has spread through our country is so sickening,” wrote another.
The incident grabbed the attention of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which identified Alnahdi as a Muslim and tweeted that it was “monitoring his death.”
The UW-Stout International Relations Club said in a Facebook post Monday that Alnahdi was a member.
“We pray for his family and friends that they may be comforted at this time,” the club’s public relations officer said.
Bethany Risler, an admissions counselor at the university, wrote that she recruited Alnahdi and that they had exchanged emails while he was still learning English. “My heart is breaking for his family. May he rest in peace,” she said.
Alnahdi’s death comes at a time when Muslims in the United States have expressed deep concern that they will be the target of hate crimes. Many advocates point to rhetoric from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has at various points called for a complete ban on Muslim immigrants. Trump shifted the proposal last month, calling instead for “extreme vetting” of people entering the country. Overall, anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen fivefold in the United States since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as reported by The Washington Post, though much of that predated Trump’s campaign.
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