Police have denied that Mariam Moustafa, 18, was the victim of a hate crime after she was targeted by a girl gang in Nottingham
UK city struggles with ‘unprovoked and evil’ attack on Egyptian teen
At the number 27 bus stop outside Nottingham’s busy Victoria Centre, there are no flowers or cards to mark the assault that took place here four weeks ago.
But the death of Mariam Moustafa, an 18-year-old Egyptian who was attacked by up to 10 women here as she waited for a bus home, has shaken the residents of this central England city which is known as a multicultural melting pot.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it, not over here,” says a Pakistani man walking past the bus stop. “Yeah I’ve been abused a few times, people have shouted racist things, but nothing like this.”
Inside the shopping centre, people speak about the attack in hushed tones. There is a sense of disbelief that something like this could happen right on their doorstep, on one of the city’s busiest streets. “Why did no one step in?” asks one shop assistant.
Student groups have also expressed outrage at the attack. “This was an unprovoked and truly evil action,” Warren Austin, general secretary for the University of Nottingham African and Caribbean Society, told The National. “Nottingham… actively embraces diversity from all cultures. And thus an attack of this nature is uncommon, but an adequate response is needed.”
Mariam, who was studying engineering at Nottingham College, had been out shopping on February 20. She was on her way home when she was "punched several times" in the street by a group of "threatening and abusive" women, police said.
The mob then followed her onto a bus, where they continued their assault.
Partial footage of the attack, filmed at the back of the bus, has been circulating on social media. It appears to show Mariam cowering on the top deck while a lone man tries to defend her from her assailants.
It is believed she suffered a bleed on her brain as well as a stroke during the attack. She went to hospital and was released shortly afterwards, but her condition deteriorated at home and she slipped into a coma. She died on March 14, prompting anger in Egypt as well as in Italy, where she was born and grew up.
A post-mortem examination into her death was “inconclusive”, and Nottingham Police said that more tests were needed to determine whether there was a connection between her attack and her death three weeks later.
Prosecutors in Rome have now also opened an investigation, Italian media reported. Authorities in Egypt have asked UK officials for more information.
On Monday, Nottingham Police issued a further statement saying Mariam’s death was not hate-related. “All of the evidence indicates that the incident is not in any way hate-related,” Superintendent Rob Griffin told a press conference. He said that the police have a “clear picture” about the attack, and that they have so far identified six suspects.
A 17-year-old girl, who was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, has been released on bail.
Superintendent Griffin said it was not yet clear whether a previous attack on Mariam by a group of thugs in August was related to the latest incident. “We don’t know whether or not it is connected at this time, but we are open-minded on that subject,” he said.
But Mariam’s family have insisted it was a hate attack, pointing to the racist language used during the attack. “It is a hate and racism crime and the police have denied it and are saying it is unlikely. They kept saying “white b****” while hitting her repeatedly,” Mariam’s cousin Nour told The National.
Her relatives have also criticised the lack of wider attention to Mariam’s story. “If this was happening to a white British citizen, people would have talked everywhere about it,” Nour said.
Her second cousin, Saphia, expressed the same frustrations. “Imagine the outrage if this had been a European student in Egypt,” she told The National. “It would be a huge deal and they would talk about how Arabs and Muslims are violent and terrible.”
Using the hashtag #JusticeForMariam, floods of social media users have also labelled the attack racist and Islamophobic. Almost 9,000 people have signed a petition calling for a full investigation into the matter.
“It has been reported that [Mariam’s death] was due to racist and bigoted reasons,” the petition states. “As it is well known that the UK advocates human rights policies, we are expecting justice to be prevailed by punishing all those who took part in the death of Mariam.”
On Monday night, about 150 people attended a vigil in Nottingham to remember the teenager. It was a small gathering but still reflects the way this tight-knit community has been impacted.
Her family and friends say they just want those who attacked Mariam to be brought to justice.
“She was very hardworking and intelligent and was offered many scholarships,” Nour said. “It’s a terrible tragedy… I just want to get my message and Mariam’s story out there.”
Nour recently changed her profile picture on Twitter to one of the two cousins on holiday a year ago in Egypt, posing and smiling while hugging each other. “This was a year ago, she told me how happy she was, it was the best day,” Nour wrote. “She promised she would come visit again next year.”