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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019
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Man fatally shot outside Ramadan gathering had just become U.S. citizen, friend says

TAMPA - A Ramadan gathering at a Tampa mosque ended in chaos early Monday when one man fatally shot another during an argument, deputies said.

The victim, 36-year-old Rafat Saeed, is from Iraq and became a U.S. citizen last week, a friend said.

The shooting happened in a crowded parking lot of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay, 7326 E Sligh Ave., shortly after midnight as congregants were wrapping up the event, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Major Frank Losat said at a morning news conference.

An off-duty sheriff's deputy working a security detail heard gunshots in the parking lot and saw many of the several hundred congregants still running away from the scene, Losat said. When the deputy arrived, he found a man holding a gun and another with at least two gunshot wounds.

Saeed was later pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital.

The shooter cooperated with the deputy's commands to turn over the gun and was detained, Losat said. No charges have been filed. "From preliminary information, we understand that the shooter and the victim do know each other to some degree, an argument did ensue and shots were fired at some point during that altercation, Losat said.

Losat did not know whether the shooter was claiming he acted in self-defense.

The shooting happened after the special nightly prayer called Tarawih, held during the month of Ramadan and ending around 11:30 p.m., said Shari Akram with the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay. The two men had worked as volunteers at the mosque, Akram said, but the shooting was "a personal dispute that happened to take place outside of our parking lot."

The Sheriff's Office did not release either man's name, but the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed Saeed's identity to the Tampa Bay Times based on his date of birth.

A friend of Saeed's, Hatem Naji, said Saeed came from Iraq to the United States to escape his war-torn country. He had lived in Tampa for about 10 years, said Naji, 46, of Temple Terrace.

"He's loved by the whole community. He helped everyone," Naji said. "A very humble man, very giving, very caring."

Saeed was married and was helping raise his wife's two daughters, 15 and 12, from a previous marriage, Naji said.

"He was raising them like his own," he said. "When he's not working, he's spending time with his wife and the girls."

Naji said Saeed worked as a truck driver and a handyman and had rearranged his schedule so he could work at night to accommodate the tradition of abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. When Naji last saw Saeed on Sunday night at Naji's office, Saeed said he was heading home to eat. He apparently made a stop at the Islamic Society.

Saeed became a U.S. citizen last week and got his passport so he could visit his parents in Turkey for the first time since the family fled Iraq as refugees.

"He ran away from killing, and got killed," Naji said.

Funeral prayer for Saeed was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Islamic Community of Tampa, 5910 E 130th Ave.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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