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Shaima Alawadi Murder: Iraqi-American woman's husband pleads not guilty in her beating death

Kassim Alhimidi, left, is seen on a video screen in his video arraignment alongside his attorney, Armando Salazar, right, and an unidentified translator Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, in El Cajon, Calif. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

(CBS/AP) EL CAJON, Calif. - The husband of an Iraqi-American woman who was beaten to death in her home in San Diego County has pleaded not guilty to her murder.

Kassim Alhimidi, 48, appeared in court via a video monitor Tuesday on charges he killed Shaima Alawadi, 32, in March 2012. He was ordered held without bail after prosecutors said he recently traveled to Iraq and was a flight risk. If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison.

The couple's teenage daughter Fatima Alhimidi cried quietly in the courtroom.

The killing of the 32-year-old Alawadi drew international attention after Fatima said she found a note by her mother's bludgeoned body that read: "Go back to your country, you terrorist."

Deputy District Attorney Kurt Mechals said El Cajon police worked tirelessly to determine whether the case was indeed a hate crime or a domestic dispute. He said the family is cooperating and hoping for the best for their father but also wants to let the system discover the truth.

"His family like everyone else wants to see justice achieved for their mother," Mechals said.

Author Nina Burleigh, who has written extensively about the mix of Islam and Western society, said the case highlights the dangerous clash that can happen when female immigrants, particularly from Islamic countries, rebel against their cultural restrictions and exercise choices made available to them in their adopted homelands.

"These things are happening all over the place," Burleigh said. "It's much more openly discussed in Europe where there is more integration from these societies, where in the U.S. it's not discussed so much partly because we have a bias toward discussing the way these cultures treat women."

El Cajon, the San Diego suburb where the couple and their children lived, is home to about 40,000 Iraqis.

Alhimidi's arrest last week occurred only days after the sentencing of an Iraqi mother who was charged in Phoenix with beating her daughter because she refused to go along with an arranged marriage. The 20-year-old woman was burned on her face and chest with a hot spoon, then tied to a bed. The victim's father and sister were also sentenced to two years of probation for their involvement.

In the California case, a sealed search warrant affidavit inadvertently given to a reporter at the Union Times of San Diego newspaper showed the El Cajon family was struggling with relationship issues.

Detectives found documents in Alawadi's car indicating the mother of five planned to seek a divorce. Alawadi had left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising.

The affidavit showed their 17-year-old daughter, Fatima, was distraught over a pending arranged marriage to her cousin in Iraq and was found in a car with another man in November 2011. After her mother picked her up, the teenager said "I love you, Mom," opened the vehicle door and jumped out while the car was traveling about 35 mph, the document said.

"Police were informed by paramedics and hospital staff that Fatima Alhimidi said she was being forced to marry her cousin and did not want to do so, (so) she jumped out of the vehicle," the documents say.

In Iraq, female lawmaker Aliyah Nisayef said in March that the killing of Shaimia Alawadi was motivated by the anti-Islam and Arab sentiment in U.S. Now she has suspicions about the accusations leveled against Alawadi's husband.

"This incident has grabbed the headlines as it has angered Iraqis and other Arabs who consider it a hate crime as part of the anti-Islam and Arab campaigns in these countries," Nisayef told The Associated Press in Baghdad.

"So my point of view is that these accusations are dubious and could be fabricated as America is trying hard to give a pure picture for it in regard to human rights and fighting extremism," she added.

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Nov. 12, 2012: Shaima Alawadi Murder: Iraqi-American woman's husband arrested, accused in beating deathApril 6, 2012: Shaima Alawadi, Iraqi woman killed in her Calif. home, was planning divorce: documents