Uthorities identified Monday the fourth victim of a string of murders in Albuquerque of Muslim men. The deaths caused fear in Islamic communities across the country.
The three slayings took place in the past two weeks. Now law enforcement officials are seeking help finding a vehicle believed to be connected to the killings in New Mexico’s largest city. The common elements were the victims’ race and religion, officials said.
Naemhussain was gunned down Friday, while three more Muslim men have been killed by ambush in the nine-months preceding. The police are investigating whether the murders were linked.
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According to Pew Research Center, fear has been spread far beyond New Mexico. Muslims account for less than 1% in New Mexico’s total population of 2.1million.
“The fact the suspect remains at large is terrifying,” Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim community leader in New York, wrote on Twitter. “Who is next?”
Almontaser spoke by phone and said that she heard from a Michigan friend, who wears the hijab as a headcover, how upset she felt over the weekend. “She’s like, ‘This is so terrifying. I’m so scared. I travel alone,’” Almontaser said.
This undated photo released by the City of Española shows Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, a planning and land use director who was killed in Albuquerque on Aug. 1, 2022.
City of Española/AP
Hussain was 25 years old and originally came from Pakistan. The death of Hussain was just days following those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain (27) and Aftab Hussein (41) who both were from Pakistan, and also members of the same mosque.
Mohammad Ahmadi (62), from Afghanistan was killed in November. This is the earliest of these cases.
Aneela, general secretary of Islamic Center of New Mexico said that the community was reeling after the shootings and its pain compounded by fear of what the future may bring.
“We are just completely shocked and still trying to comprehend and understand what happened, how and why,” she said.
Abad stated that three of the victims were present at the center and another was well-known within the neighborhood.
Some people have avoided going out unless “absolutely necessary,” and some Muslim university students have been wondering whether it is safe for them to stay in the city. She said that the security at the center was also increased.
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Police said the same vehicle is suspected of being used in all four homicides — a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appears to be a Jetta or Passat with dark tinted windows. The police released photographs to help people identify the vehicle and provided a $20,000 reward if they were successful in locating it.
Investigators have not revealed where images were taken nor what made them suspect that the car may be involved in the murders. Gilbert Gallegos (police spokesperson) stated in an email Monday, that the agency had received tip about the car. He did not give any details.
“We have a very, very strong link,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. “We have a vehicle of interest … We have got to find this vehicle.”
Gallegos denied that he knew the gun used and the police’s knowledge of the suspects in the shootings.
Cecily Barker, Albuquerque Police Deputy Chief Of Investigations, holds a flyer that shows photos of a vehicle wanted in connection to the murders of Muslim men. This was taken in Albuquerque (New Mexico) on August 7, 2022.
Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal/AP
President Joe Biden said he was “angered and saddened” by the killings and that his administration “stands strongly with the Muslim community.”
“These hateful attacks have no place in America,” Biden said Sunday in a tweet.
Safety has been a dominant topic in WhatsApp and other email groups, Almontaser said.
“What we’ve seen happen in New Mexico is very chilling for us as a Muslim minority community in the United States that has endured so much backlash and discrimination” since the 9/11 attacks, she said. “It’s frightening.”
According to FBI data, Albuquerque has seen fewer hate crimes against Muslims in the past five years. This is according to Brian Levin (director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism) who also teaches criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino.
One anti-Muslim hate crimes were reported each year from 2017 to 2020. In 2016, Albuquerque police had six hate crimes out of the total 25.
Levin noted that the trend is closely related to national trends. The lowest number in ten years was in 2020. However, it will rise by 45% each year in 2021.
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Albuquerque officials say it is impossible to determine if these murders are hate crimes until the suspect has been identified and motive established.
Louis Schlesinger is a John Jay College of Criminal Justice forensic psychologist who said that bias killings often involve a few people. These are usually young, white men. Rarely is there a single perpetrator.
“These are basically total losers by every dimension, whether it’s social, economic, psychological, what have you,” he said. “They’re filled with hatred for one reason or another and target a particular group that they see, in their mind, to blame for all their problems in life.”
The victims did not know their attackers or attackers.
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After receiving a report of an incident, police found the victim dead. Officials declined to comment on whether or not the murder was similar to other victims.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local congresswoman’s campaign.
Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury issued a statement praising him as “one of the kindest and hardest working people” she has ever known. She said the urban planner was “committed to making our public spaces work for every person and cleaning up legacy pollution.”
As land-use director for the city of Española — more than 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Albuquerque — Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusivity for disadvantaged minorities, according to the mayor’s office.
The city staff “has lost a member of our family, and we all have lost a brilliant public servant,” Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release.
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