DUBAI // A young UAE military officer shot dead by robbers in Houston, Texas, may have been targeted because he was wearing national dress.
Salem Saif Al Mazroui and his father had returned from prayers and left their car idling outside their apartment to unload groceries when the two killers struck at about 10pm on Sunday.
Houston police said the father and son were approached by two robbers who forced them into their apartment at gunpoint and demanded cash and valuables.
When the two Emiratis tried to flee, three shots were fired and Salem Saif was hit in the chest below his right arm.
“They were wearing their traditional Middle Eastern dress, and by some accounts you could assume they were targeted because of that, but we don’t know that for certain right now,” said Officer M Miller, a Houston police homicide investigator.
Sergeant Ryan Chandler of the Houston police homicide division, who is leading the murder investigation, said: “I don’t think the father and son were aggressive or confrontational; I think they just wanted to get away.”
The attackers stole mobile phones and cash and escaped in the Al Mazroui family car, a black 2008 Toyota Avalon. The car was found on Monday morning. The robbers are still at large.
Salem Saif, who was in his mid-twenties, was in the US to support his wheelchair-bound father as he received treatment for cancer.
The two men were staying at a gated apartment complex near the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in south-east Houston.
The Al Mazroui family is from Adhen, a village in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. Salem Saif had only recently finished building a home there for his wife and their two-month-old son.
His father has been receiving treatment in Houston for five months, and the brothers have taken turns looking after their father there. Salem Saif had been in Houston for three weeks.
The family plan to fly out to the US tonight and hope to return with the body in a few days.
Emirati neighbours of the Al Mazroui family in the Houston apartment complex rushed over to the apartment when they heard three shots fired and found Salem Saif Al Mazroui in a pool of blood with a wound below his right arm.
The Al Mazroui family had only recently met their Emirati neighbours. “That same night, our families met at a majlis to live the spirit of Ramadan,” said M?A, from Sharjah.
MA’s brother and cousin are in Houston with his sister, who is also receiving treatment for cancer at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre.
MA said his brother had tried to get Salem Saif to the hospital. “My brother and cousin picked him up and carried him to their car, but by the time they got there his soul had already left his body. Then the ambulance and police arrived.
“He was loved by the people around him, they said he was a humorous person who respects everyone around him. He loved his father, mother and sister and went with them for treatment.”
MA said he now fears for the safety of his own family in Houston. “I phoned them and asked, are you living in a safe environment?”
The MD Anderson Cancer Centre at the University of Houston is a leading cancer research and treatment centre that attracts patients from around the world. In 2010, the hospital treated 105,000 patients.
In January, the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Charity Foundation donated $150 million to the centre to support genetic-analysis based research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.