Police announced a breakthrough Tuesday in the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, charging a man from Afghanistan — himself a Muslim — with two of the slayings and identifying him as a prime suspect in the other killings that put the entire community on edge.
Muhammad Syed, 51 years old, was taken into custody after being stopped by police more than 100 miles away.
The three ambush shootings occurred in the past two weeks. Harold Medina, Chief of Police said that it wasn’t clear yet if the victims should be considered hate crimes, serial killers or both.
Investigators received a tip from the city’s Muslim community that pointed toward Syed, who has lived in the U.S. for about five years, police said.
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Police were looking into possible motives, including an unspecified “interpersonal conflict.”
When asked if Syed was angry his daughter got married to a Shiite Muslim father, Deputy police Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock declined to answer directly. He said “motives are still being explored fully to understand what they are.”
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, acknowledged that “there was a marriage,” but he cautioned against coming to 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 is an incredible sigh of relief that we’re breathing,” he said. “Lives have been turned upside down.”
The exact nature of the relationships between Syed and the victims – and the victims to one another – remained unclear. Police said that they are still investigating how the two met before the shootings.
Altaf Hussain weeps over Aftab Hussein’s grave at Fairview Memorial Park, Albuquerque, on August 5, 2022.
Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal/AP
The slayings drew the attention of President Joe Biden, who said such attacks “have no place in America.” They also sent a shudder through Muslim communities across the U.S. Some people were concerned about their safety and restricted their movements.
When told about the arrest before the suspect’s identity was made public, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of one of the victims, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said he felt relieved but needed to know more about the assailant and the motive.
“This gives us hope that we will have (the) truth come out,” he said. “We need to know why.”
Syed may not have had an attorney to speak for him immediately.
Naem, a 25 year-old Pakistani national, was murdered Friday night. It was just days before the death of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain (27) and Aftab Hussein (41) who both were from Pakistan and belonged to the same mosque.
Mohammad Ahmadi (62), from Afghanistan was killed in November. This is the earliest of these cases.
Authorities have stated that Syed was charged with the murders of Aftab Hussein, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, and bullet casings at crime scene were connected to his gun at home.
Other killings could also be connected to the suspect
Although investigators believe that Syed is the main suspect in Ahmadi’s death, they have yet to file charges.
Police said they were about to search Syed’s Albuquerque home on Monday when they saw him drive away in a Volkswagen Jetta that investigators believe was used in at least one of the slayings.
He was followed by officers to Santa Rosa (110 miles northeast of Albuquerque), where he was stopped. Police said that multiple firearms were found in his house and vehicle.
Syed’s sons were questioned and released, according to authorities.
According to authorities, the government expects that the state will bring in murder charges and they are looking at adding a federal case.
Shiites are the second most important branch of Islam, behind Sunnis.
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Aneela Abbad, the general secretary of the Islamic centre, stated that the New Mexican Muslim communities enjoy close ties.
“Our Shiite 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 a city planner “who believed in democracy and social change, and who believed that we could, in fact, build a brighter future for our communities and for our world.”
— Robert Jablon contributed to this report
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