US Muslim teen's murder not a hate crime - police

Nabra Hassanen
Nabra Hassanen was with friends when the man confronted them. Photo credit: Supplied

A man accused of killing a teenage Muslim girl has appeared before a Virginia court to face a murder charge as police say the killing was not being investigated as a hate crime.

Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, was in his car when he got into a dispute with the girl and a group of her friends before dawn on Sunday in Sterling, Virginia, about 50 km outside Washington, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

Martinez got out of the car and assaulted the girl, police said on Monday.

The girl and her friends had attended overnight prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims fast from dawn till sunset.

They were walking back from a McDonald's restaurant when they encountered Martinez, said Tawny Wright, a Fairfax police spokeswoman.

"Something happened and he became upset," Ms Wright said, declining to elaborate on the dispute.

"The group started separating a little bit. The victim happened to be closest to him and then he assaulted her."

Her friends sought help at ADAMS, the mosque said in a statement.

Police arrested Martinez an hour or two later after he was seen driving suspiciously, and found what they believe to be the girl's body later on Sunday in a nearby pond.

Martinez was given a public defender during his appearance via video-link at the county's Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, and the judge ordered that he remain in jail without bail, according to Raymond Morrogh, the Fairfax commonwealth's attorney, the county's chief prosecutor.

A grand jury will vote on which specific murder charge Martinez should face, if any, Mr Morrogh said.

Officials declined to identify the girl, but the Washington Post named her as Nabra Hassanen. Police said she was 17, while the prosecutors said she was 16, the Post reported.

The girl and her friends were dressed in abayas, the robe-like dress worn by some Muslim women, according to the Post, prompting fears the victim was targeted because she was Muslim.

Fairfax police said on Monday morning they were not investigating the murder as a hate crime, defined in Virginia as a crime motivated by bias against someone's race, religion or national origin.

"Nothing suggests that this girl or the group was targeted because of who they are or what they believe," said Ms Wright.