Detectives probing the murder of a student in Colchester say the fact she was a Muslim is “one of the main lines of the investigation”.
The Saudi Arabian woman, in her early 30s and who was studying at the University of Essex, was walking along the Salary Brook Trail in Greenstead when the attack happened.
Paramedics tried to save her but she died at the scene from massive head and body injuries.
Essex Police confirmed today she was wearing a dark navy blue full-length robe, called an Abaya, and a patterned multi-coloured Hijab headscarf.
Det Supt Tracy Hawkings said officers were keeping an open mind about the motive of the attack at 10.40am yesterday.
But she added: “We are conscious 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 there is no firm evidence at this time she was targeted because of her religion.”
Detectives want to hear from anyone who used the path between 8.30am and 11am and asked residents to check gardens and bins for weapons or blood-stained clothing.
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 on Wednesday to establish the cause of death but at this time it would appear a knife or other bladed weapon was used.
“The victim also suffered facial injuries but the cause of these has yet to be established.
“If anyone comes across any suspicious items which they think could be connected to this murder we would ask them to call us.”
Although not formally identified the police have confirmed they believe the victim to be a Saudi Arabian national who lived in nearby Woodrow Way and studied at Essex University.
A university spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the young woman, and we are deeply saddened by this tragic incident.
“The university is providing every possible assistance to the police and we have opened a helpline on 01206 874333 to provide support for students, staff and those connected with our community, and informing them of other university support services.
“Following advice from the police we have reminded our community of our safety procedures. There is 24-hour security at Colchester campus and our Students’ Union shuttle bus is running from campus to surrounding areas in the evenings.”
Officers are looking at possible links with the murder of James Attfield, who died after being stabbed 102 times close to Colchester’s Lower Castle Park in late 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.
Police patrols will be increased in the area and street lights kept on until officers release the scene.
A 52-year-old man from Colchester arrested in connection with the incident at 5pm yesterday and remains in custody tonight.
Anyone with any information should contact the major investigation team on 01245 282103, Essex Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.