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Tampa man was shot twice in the back in mosque melee, lawsuit says

Rafat Saeed, 36, was shot and killed in a Tampa mosque parking lot after a Ramadan gathering on May 20. No arrest has been made, and his family is now suing the mosque for wrongful death. [Facebook]
Published May 30

TAMPA — The wife of a man shot and killed in an altercation with another man in a mosque parking lot last week has sued the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, Inc., alleging her husband was shoved "face-first" to the ground by a mosque security guard who then shot him twice in the back.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has yet to identify the guard or make an arrest for the May 20 shooting death of 36-year-old Rafat Saeed.

Sheriff Chad Chronister said Thursday that the agency is still investigating Saeed's death. Until that's finished, he said the Sheriff's Office can't comment on the nature of the shooting or whether a claim of self-defense has been made.

The dearth of information has left the mosque community swimming in social media-fueled rumors and acrimony.

But new details about what may have happened are contained in two recent documents: The wrongful death lawsuit filed last week in Hillsborough circuit court by the lawyers of widow Huda Kareem, and a preliminary report released by the medical examiner.

Two bullets from a 9mm semi-automatic handgun were fired into the "left aspect of (Saeed's) back," according to the medical examiner.

The widow's lawyers held a news conference Thursday to talk about their own investigation and lawsuit against the mosque.

"I have had some contact with the homicide detectives," attorney Sam Badawi said. "They are doing their due diligence with the investigation and they are putting the case together to present it to the State Attorney's Office."

In the meantime, the lawyers said they'll pursue a civil case against the mosque.

"I pray there too, I'm a Muslim myself, and at the end of the day we have someone that got killed ... in a place of worship with no explanation, no responsibility, no nothing," said Badawi, who drew up the lawsuit with his law associate Zachary Udell and attorney David Eaton.

"We have to get to the bottom of this now. The mosque is just trying to camouflage the truth and sweep it under the rug ... but the fact is they shoulder just as much responsibility for his death."

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Days after the shooting, Islamic Society spokesman Ahmed Bedier dismissed rumors circulating on social media that the mosque's leadership was involved in any kind of "cover-up." The Islamic Society did not respond to requests to comment on the lawsuit made on Wednesday and Thursday.

The lawsuit identified the man that the lawyers say pulled the trigger: Muhammad Rakibul Haque, a 42-year-old insurance agent in Temple Terrace. Haque is a member of the Islamic Society's congregation and a volunteer on its "security team," the lawsuit said. Haque could not be reached for comment. The Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the details of the lawsuit, saying it is a civil matter that does not involve the agency.

The agency gave this brief account of the shooting: An off-duty sheriff's deputy worked security during a Ramadan prayer. He heard gunshots in the parking lot. Hundreds ran from the scene. The deputy quickly found two men, one armed, the other wounded. The two had gotten into an argument that turned physical. The shooter turned over his weapon and cooperated with deputies.

Saeed and Huda Kareem both arrived in the U.S. from Iraq as "war refugees," the wife said Thursday. He was an Iraqi immigrant who earned his citizenship a week before he died. To provide for his wife and her two teenage daughters, he worked odd jobs as a truck driver and electrician. He also volunteered at the mosque where he and his family worshiped, Masjid Al-Qassam.

That mosque is at 5905 E 130th Ave., just over five miles north of the Islamic Society mosque at 7326 E Sligh Ave. Saeed lives less than 500 yards from the Islamic Society mosque, and volunteered there as well.

The lawsuit offered this account of what led to the shooting: Saeed was working at Masjid Al-Qassam when his family said he took a break to bring them dinner. On his way home he decided to cut through a small access street off Harney Road that serves as the main entrance to the Islamic Society's parking lot.

But as Saeed pulled into the small thoroughfare he was stopped by Haque, the complaint said, who was working as a security guard. Haque told Saeed he had been speeding through the parking lot and the two argued, the lawsuit said, then Haque shoved Saeed "face-first" to the ground.

"Before Mr. Saeed could get back onto his feet," the lawsuit said, "Mr. Haque shot him twice in the back."

The wrongful death suit seeks damages from the mosque because of "negligent retention, training and supervision" of the mosque's security team.

The Islamic Society failed to "implement any policy or procedure for how its security personnel, including Rakibul Haque, would conduct themselves in the performance of their duties, train its security personnel in crisis intervention, de-escalation techniques, the proper administration and use of lethal and non-lethal force, or provide any training whatsoever as it relates to maintaining secure and safe conditions at the Defendant's mosque," the lawsuit stated.

Several security volunteers told the attorneys that mosque leadership only held one informational meeting with them before issuing uniforms and Tasers, the lawsuit said. The mosque didn't have a policy as to whether those volunteer guards should also carry firearms, the lawyers said, even though each volunteer had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

"Where were the security supervisors? Why was no de-escalation involved? Why didn't he call for back-up first?" Badawi said. "For a negligence case, you have to ask if it was a foreseeable occurrence that led to Saeed's death, and if it was foreseeable could it have been prevented.

"And in our interviews, over and over again we saw that, despite warning signs, the leadership did nothing."

Saeed and Haque knew each other and had been at odds for years, according to the Islamic Society and the lawsuit. But the complaint said they recently had an argument so heated that Haque "verbally and physically" threatened Saeed's life weeks before the shooting.

"As a volunteer and frequent worshiper at the mosque, Mr. Saeed was deeply concerned about the dangerous behavior exhibited by Mr. Haque and the harm he could cause to Mr. Saeed and other worshipers and staff," the lawsuit said. Yet "no action was taken to suspend or discharge Mr. Haque from his position."

When asked what she would tell the man who shot her husband, Kareem start crying. Her message was told through a translator: "How could you kill a human being, an innocent human? How can you take a life from someone innocent like my husband?"

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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