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C-Store Owner's Death May be Backlash

Homicide investigators, FBI agents and a Middle Eastern diplomat converged yesterday on a San Joaquin Valley convenience store where a Yemeni shop owner was gunned down in what police are calling a possible backlash killing in the wake of last month's terrorist attacks.

Abdo Ali Ahmed received a death threat last week because of his heritage, and on Saturday he staggered from his store into an adjoining tavern with a severe gunshot wound to his midsection. A car full of teenagers sped away moments before Ahmed fell to the bar's wooden floor, just paces from the house where he lived with his wife and six children.

The Fresno County sheriff and the FBI are investigating the case as a possible hate crime, one of more than 100 reported to the FBI since the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks in New York and Washington.

Police say witnesses were outside the East Reedley convenience store at the time, but nobody saw the shooting or could say whether Ahmed's killers uttered racial slurs.

Ahmed's relatives say a safe and a bag of cash were left untouched beneath the cash register.

A few days before the shooting, Ahmed and his wife, Fatima, found a death threat on the windshield of their car while they were parked at the local Save Mart grocery store. The note included anti-Arab statements, sheriff's Sgt. Toby Rien said, and Ahmed threw it away.

Ahmed also had told friends and family that he had received taunts and threats at his store and from customers at the neighboring bar since the terrorist attacks. His advice to family and friends was to brush it off.

"We felt things were getting better," said Monsoor Ismael, the Yemeni consul from San Francisco who visited Ahmed's family and met with local authorities Monday. "But when we heard of this incident last Saturday, it made us afraid again."

The Yemeni Consulate is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the suspects -- four men identified as between the ages of 13 and 18. Police have stepped up patrols to provide safety for 20 local businessmen of Middle Eastern descent, Reedley police Lt. Steve Wright said. After Ahmed's killing, Wright said, police learned that threats against the minority community have been widespread.

"Sad is probably not the right word," Wright said. "It cuts me right to the core. For a couple of people using the flag for patriotism to come up with these criminal intentions, it's just not what America is about."

Ahmed moved to the United States about 35 years ago and went to central California to work as a farm laborer before buying his store a decade ago. Family members say he worked 14-hour days, seven days a week.
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