PPolice announced a breakthrough in the murder of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday, charging a man from Afghanistan – himself a Muslim – with two of the murders and identifying him as the prime suspect in the other murders that got the whole community on board.
Muhammad Syed, 51, was taken into custody a day earlier after a traffic stop more than 100 miles away, authorities said.
Three of the four ambush shootings have taken place in the past two weeks. Police Chief Harold Medina said it was not yet clear whether the deaths should be classified as hate crimes or serial murders or both.
Investigators received a tip from the city’s Muslim community that pointed to Syed, who has lived in the United States for about five years, police said.
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Police were looking for possible motives, including an unspecified “interpersonal conflict”.
When asked specifically if Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was angry that his daughter married a Shia Muslim, the deputy police commander. Kyle Hartsock did not respond directly. He said “the motivations are still fully explored to understand what they are”.
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, acknowledged ‘there was a wedding’ but cautioned against drawing any conclusions about the motivation of the suspect, who he said attended the center’s mosque “from time to time”.
“Knowing where we were, you know, a few days ago to where we are today, it’s an incredible sigh of relief that we breathe,” he said. “Lives have been turned upside down.”
The exact nature of the relationship between Syed and the victims – and the victims with each other – remained unclear. But police said they are continuing to investigate how they crossed paths before the shooting.
Altaf Hussain mourns at the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein at Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque on August 5, 2022.
Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal/AP
The killings caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who said such attacks “have no place in America.” They also sent a chill through Muslim communities across the United States. Some people questioned their safety and restricted their movements.
When told of the arrest before the identity of the suspect was made public, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of one of the victims, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said he felt relieved but he needed to know more about the attacker and his motive.
“It gives us hope that we will get (the) truth out,” he said. “We need to know why.”
It was not immediately clear if Syed had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Naeem Hussain, a 25-year-old Pakistani, was killed on Friday evening. His death came days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.
The first case concerns the murder in November of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan.
For now, Syed is charged with the murders of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain because casings found at the crime scene were linked to a firearm found at his home, authorities said.
Suspect may be linked to other murders
Investigators consider Syed to be the prime suspect in the deaths of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi, but have not yet filed charges in the cases.
Police said they were about to search Syed’s Albuquerque home on Monday when they saw him drive off in a Volkswagen Jetta that investigators believe was used in at least one of the murders.
Officers followed him to Santa Rosa, about 110 miles east of Albuquerque, where they arrested him. Several firearms were recovered from his home and car, police said.
Syed’s sons were interrogated and released, authorities said.
Prosecutors plan to file murder charges in state court and are considering adding a federal case, authorities said.
The Shiites are the second largest branch of Islam after the Sunnis.
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Aneela Abad, secretary general of the Islamic Center, said the two Muslim communities in New Mexico have warm ties.
“Our Shia community has always been there for us and we Sunnis have always been there for them,” she said.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury’s campaign.
“Muhammad was kind, hopeful, optimistic,” she said, describing him as an urban planner “who believed in democracy and social change, and who believed that we could, in fact, build a better future. for our communities and for our world.”
— Robert Jablon contributed to this report
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