The murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina Tuesday night has sparked outrage on social media, with many voicing their view that the attack was motivated by hatred. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter shot up to nearly 15,000 usages per hour early Wednesday morning as some Twitter users complained that most mainstream media outlets were too slow to cover the story or were not reporting it at all. The hashtag echoes the "BlackLivesMatter" campaign that spread online last fall in the wake of  police shottings of unarmed black men.

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was arrested and charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Though no motive has been provided by authorities, many have pointed to Hicks’ anti-religion Facebook posts as an indication that he targeted the three students for their religious background.

The victims were family members, living in an apartment near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Barakat was in his second year at the UNC School of Dentistry, while Mohammad, his wife of just over a month, was planning to begin dental studies at the school this fall, CNN reported. Mohammad’s sister Abu-Salha was a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.


The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the U.S.’ largest Muslim civil rights group, called on law enforcement authorities to address the speculation that the victims were targeted for their religion in a statement released Wednesday morning. "Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case," said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

The killings have also been used by some social media users to call attention to what they say is rising Islamophobia in the U.S.