The ambush of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico shook the community but inspired a flood of information, including one that led to the arrest of a local Muslim from Afghanistan who knew the victims, authorities said.
Muhammad Syed, 51, was arrested Monday after a traffic stop more than 100 miles from his home in Albuquerque. He has been charged with killing two victims and has been identified as the prime suspect in the other two killings, authorities said Tuesday.
The Muslim community breathes “an incredible sigh of relief,” said Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico. “Lives have been turned upside down.”
It was not immediately clear if Syed had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
The first murder last November was followed by three more between July 26 and August 5.
Police Chief Harold Medina said it was not yet clear whether the deaths should be classified as hate crimes or serial murders or both.
Syed was from Afghanistan and had lived in the United States for about five years, police said.
“The offender knew the victims to some degree, and an interpersonal conflict may have led to the shooting,” a police statement said, although investigators are still working to identify how they crossed paths. .
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.”
Assed acknowledged that “there had been a marriage”, but he cautioned against drawing any conclusions about the motivation of Syed, who occasionally attended the center’s mosque.
Police said Syed gave them a statement but did not release details.
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.
“There is no justification for this evil. There is no justification for taking the life of an innocent person,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a Tuesday press conference in Washington, DC.
He called the killings “deranged behavior”.
The first case concerns the murder in November of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan.
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.
Ehsan Chahalmi, Naeem Hussain’s brother-in-law, said he was “a generous, kind, generous, forgiving and loving soul who was taken away from us forever”.
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.
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.
News that the shootings appeared to be linked produced more than 200 tips, including one from the Muslim community that police say led them to the Syed family.
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.
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. ”
Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Fam from Winter Park, Florida. Associated Press writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.