Footpath victim was Saudi student

This Is Lancashire: Police are keeping an open mind on the motive for the murder Police are keeping an open mind on the motive for the murder

A woman who died after a brutal attack on a footpath was a Saudi Arabian student, police have said.

Detectives are investigating the possibility the woman , who was in her early 30s, was targeted because of her Muslim dress.

She was attacked while walking on the Salary Brook Trail in Colchester at 10.40am yesterday. Paramedics tried to save her but she died at the scene from head and body injuries.

The victim has not been formally identified but Essex Police said she was a student at the local University of Essex.

The force confirmed she was wearing a dark navy blue full length robe called an abaya, and a patterned multi-coloured hijab headscarf.

Detective superintendent Tracy Hawkings said officers were keeping an open mind about the motive of the attack.

But she added: "We are conscious that the dress of the victim will have identified her as likely being a Muslim and this is one of the main lines of the investigation but again there is no firm evidence at this time that she was targeted because of her religion."

One 19-year-old Muslim student, who lives nearby and also studies at the university but did not want to be named, said: "This is normally a pretty tolerant area, I've never had any trouble.

"If it's true people are being picked out by somebody just because they look Muslim, it's very worrying."

A 52-year-old man was arrested last night in connection with the murder.

It is thought the woman was attacked with a knife and she suffered facial wounds in the attack.

The pathway runs along the back of a housing estate and opens on to fields.

A section measuring about 100 metres has been closed off and forensic teams were this afternoon conducting fingertip searchs.

Detectives want to hear from anyone who used the trail between 8.30am and 11am yesterday.

They have also asked residents to check their gardens and rubbish bins for any discarded weapons or blood stained clothing.

The victim is believed to have left her home in nearby Woodrow Way before joining the path shortly before her death.

Ms Hawkings said: "We have not yet been able to formally identify the victim but we believe we know who she is and specially trained family liaison officers are speaking with her family now.

"A forensic post-mortem is due to be carried out this afternoon to establish the cause of death but at this time it would appear that a knife or other bladed weapon was used in this attack.

"The victim also suffered facial injuries but the cause of these has yet to be established.

"We have no further detail on the murder weapon or weapons at this time but if anyone comes across any suspicious items which they think could be connected to this murder we would ask them to call us."

Officers are looking at possible links with the murder of James Attfield, a vulnerable man with brain damage, who died after being stabbed more than 100 times at a park in the town in March.

"There are some immediate similarities between this murder and that of James Attfield but there are also a large number of differences as well," she said.

"There is no current known motive for this attack and we are keeping an open mind and exploring all possible avenues of investigation."

Officers will be carrying out additional patrols in the area.

Anyone with any information should contact the major investigation team on 01245 282103, Essex Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy confirmed Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, ambassador to the UK, had contacted the woman's family.

In a statement, it said: "The prince summoned officials of Saudi Welfare Department and Legal Affairs to consider the appropriate action to follow up the case, stand by the family of the deceased, and provide them with all necessary things in these circumstances, in addition to considering the regular and sound communication procedures with the local authorities concerned to consider the case.

"Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf expressed in a telephone call on Tuesday to the brother of the deceased his sincerest condolences to her family."

The woman had a brother living in the UK, the embassy added.

The University of Essex has informed all staff and students about the attack and reminded them of safety procedures, a spokeswoman said.

She added: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the young woman who died yesterday, and we are deeply saddened by this tragic incident.

"While we are awaiting confirmation of her identity from Essex Police, we understand the woman was one of our students from Saudi Arabia.

"The university is providing every possible assistance to the police."

The university has opened a helpline on 01206 874333 to provide support for students, staff and others connected to the campus.

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