WASHINGTON: Naeem Hussain was among thousands of mourners who gathered at the Islamic Center of New Mexico on Friday afternoon for the funerals of two Muslims who were ambushed and shot to death in the city of Albuquerque this week. Hours later, he too was killed.
Naeem was killed on Friday night in the parking lot of the Lutheran Family Services, which provides social support to refugees settled in the state of New Mexico. He was an Afghan refugee who lived with his family in Peshawar and Islamabad before migrating to the US.
Muhammad Afzal Hussein, 27, was killed on Monday less than a block from his apartment near the University of New Mexico and Aftab Hussain, 41, was killed on July 26 in the city’s international district.
The first victim of this senseless violence was 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi, who was killed in November behind the halal market he and his brother owned.
Latest victim killed on Friday after attending Afzal Hussein’s funeral
Tahir Gauba, director public relations at the Islamic Center of New Mexico (ICNM), told Dawn that the Albuquerque Police Department and the FBI briefed them on Thursday, “telling us that they believe all three deaths were connected.” This was before Naeem Hussain’s body was discovered.
Afzal, whose family migrated from Rawalpindi, was an architect, graduate of the University of New Mexico (UNM), and headed a group of UNM alumni.
“Afzal’s death really shook the community and also alarmed the local police,” Mr Gauba said.
“He was prominent in the community and was Director Planning at the nearby city of Española.”
It was Afzal who initiated the community’s liaison with the police, about six months ago and was helping the local congresswoman in her re-election campaign as well.
Aftab, who was killed on July 26, was also an Afghan refugee from Peshawar.
Albuquerque, a city of about half a million people, has only 3,000 Muslims “but apparently that irks someone and that’s why they are targeting us,” Mr Gauba said.
The Albuquerque Police Department said they were investigating a possible serial killer, because the last three murders happened within five miles of each other in the last nine months. “While we won’t go into why we think there’s a connection, there’s one strong commonality in all of our victims — their race and religion,” Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said.
“They also told us that there’s a strong possibility of a serial killer being involved in these murders,” Mr. Gauba said. “We have reached out to our senator, Martin Heinrich, to get more resources from the federal government.”
On the ICNM Facebook page, where the local mosque posted the video of the funeral prayer and dua, a local Muslim Nadina Barnes asked: “What safety plans are in place at ICNM?”
Imam Mahmoud Eldenawi urged the community not to panic. “All of us, not only Muslim, are shocked and saddened at the murders of three innocent people,” he said.
“The evil guy who committed this crime, doesn’t have any faith, sympathy, passion, mercy at all.”
Meanwhile, America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, based in Washington, D.C., announced a $5,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case.
Local media reports cited FBI statistics, showing religion-based hate crimes reached an historically high level in 2020 — the most recent year for which statistics are available. It said Muslims were the group that experienced the second-highest number of hate crimes across the country.
“It is abhorrent that anyone would be attacked simply because of who they are, and we express our deep concern and support to the Muslim community of New Mexico,” said Anti-Defamation League’s regional director Scott Levin.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2022