Suspect identified in four murders of Muslim men in New Mexico

The killing of four Muslim men in the past nine months has sparked waves of fear through Islamic communities in New Mexico and beyond.

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — A 51-year-old man from Afghanistan was charged Tuesday with killing two Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and authorities said he is suspected of killing two others whose deaths are feared in Muslim communities across the country sparked communities.

Officials announced the arrest of Muhammad Syed a day after his arrest.

Police Chief Harold Medina made the announcement on Twitter, He said authorities had tracked down a vehicle believed to be involved in one of the murders in New Mexico’s largest city.

“The driver has been arrested and is our prime suspect in the murders,” the tweet said.

Investigators received leads from the city’s Muslim community that pointed them to Syed, who arrived in the United States sometime in recent years, police said.

He was pulled over and taken into custody along Interstate 40 in Santa Rosa, about 110 miles east of Albuquerque.

The killings caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who said such attacks “have no place in America.” They also sent a shudder through Muslim communities, where some people questioned their safety and restricted their movement.

Upon learning of the announcement, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of one of the victims, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said he was relieved but needed to know more about the suspect and the motive.

“It gives us hope that the truth will come out,” he said. “We need to know why.”

Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night and the other three men died in ambushes.

Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His deaths came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.

The earliest case concerns the killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, of Afghanistan in November.

authorities on Monday sought help in finding a vehicle this appeared to be the one spotted on Tuesday.

The common elements in the deaths were the victims’ race and religion, officials said, and police were trying to determine if the deaths were linked.

Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim community leader in New York, said a friend who lives in Michigan and wears the hijab hat told her over the weekend how upset she was. “She says, ‘This is so scary. I’m so afraid. I’m traveling alone,'” Almontaser said.

Aneela Abad, secretary general of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community devastated by the killings and whose grief is compounded by confusion and fear of what may follow.

“We’re just completely shocked and we’re still trying to grasp and understand what happened, how and why,” she said.

Some people have avoided going out unless it is “absolutely necessary” and some Muslim university students have questioned whether it is safe for them to stay in the city, she said. The center has also strengthened its security.

Police initially said the same vehicle was suspected of being involved in all four murders – a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appeared to be a Jetta or Passat with tinted windows. But the police chief’s tweet referred only to the vehicle’s connection to a homicide.

Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car and offered it a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Investigators did not say where the pictures were taken or what led them to believe the car was involved in the murders. Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in an email on Monday that the agency had received tips about the car but had not elaborated.

Gallegos said he could not comment on what type of gun was used in the shooting or if police know how many suspects were involved in the violence.

Accordingly, only a few anti-Muslim hate crimes have been recorded in Albuquerque in the last five years FBI data cited by Brian LevinDirector of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and Professor of Criminal Justice at California State University in San Bernardino.

From 2017 to 2020 there was one anti-Muslim hate crime every year. The highest current number was in 2016, when Albuquerque police recorded six hate crimes out of a total of 25.

This is broadly in line with national trends, which hit their lowest numbers in a decade in 2020, only to increase 45% in a dozen cities and states in 2021, Levin said.

Albuquerque authorities say they cannot determine whether the killings are hate crimes until they identify a suspect and a motive.

It was not clear if the victims knew their attacker or attackers.

The latest victim was found dead after police received a call about a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the murder was carried out in a manner similar to the other deaths.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local congresswoman’s campaign.

Democratic MP Melanie Stansbury issued a statement praising him as “one of the kindest, hardest working people” she has ever known. She said the city planner is “bound to make sure our public spaces work for all people and legacy issues are cleaned up.”

As land use director for the city of Española — more than 137 kilometers north of Albuquerque — Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusion for disadvantaged minorities. This was announced by the mayor’s office.

Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Fam from Winter Park, Florida. Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington and AP news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report. Suspect identified in four murders of Muslim men in New Mexico

Laura Coffey

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