WASHINGTON: Police in the New Mexico city of Albuquerque urged citizens on Sunday to share any tips they may have about four recent murders that police are treating as hate crimes against Muslims.

In a separate message, the Islamic Center of New Mexico (ICNM) urged Muslims in Albuqu­erque on Monday to avoid walking alone at night and to make sure they are not followed to their homes.

A local newspaper, Albuquerque Journal, reported that “people are beginning to panic” after the fourth murder. All four victims are of Pakistani and Afghan descent.

“We urge everyone to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings including making sure that you are not being followed home and avoid walking alone at night,” the ICNM community message said. “This is especially true for our members living in the southeast part of the city where these killings have taken place.”

The Albuquerque Police Depart­ment (APD) said their homicide detectives were investigating an overnight murder of a Muslim man that might be linked to three similar murders in the area. The FBI is assisting them in the investigation.

On Friday, just before midnight, APD officers in the southeast area responded to reports of a shooting in the area of Truman Street and Grand Avenue NE. An adult male was located and found to be dead.

According to investigators, the victim, Naeem Hussain, believed to be in his mid-20s, is Muslim and a native from South Asia. They believe Friday’s murder may be connected to the recent murder of three Muslim men, also from South Asia.

Detectives on Thursday determined there’s a connection between the Aug 1 murder of Muhammad Afzal Hussain, 27, and the July 26 murder of Aftab Hussein, 41. “Both men are Muslim and are from Pakistan,” police said. They were killed in southeast Albuquerque near Central Avenue.

As a result of these murders, detectives are now trying to determine whether the Nov 7, 2021, murder of Mohammad Ahmadi, a Muslim from Afghanistan, is also related to more recent homicides. Ahmadi was killed outside of a business he and his brother ran at 1401 San Mateo Blvd NW.

Anyone with tips about these murders is urged to call Albuquerque Metro Crime Stoppers at 505-843-STOP (7867).

The ICNM online message page said they have held several meetings with city and state officials and law enforcement agencies. “Every­one is working diligently to ensure that Muslims in our city remain safe and that the criminals are brought to justice,” the message added.

ICNM officials said they have shared with the police “whatever tips and information we had.”

The 2022 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) pointed out that in recent years, anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States has spiked.

“Existing and proposed mosque sites across the country have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts, and there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities,” the report said.

Tahir Gauba, ICNM’s director of public affairs, said the local Muslim community — especially students who live near the area where two most recent shootings happened — “is feeling very afraid”.

At a Saturday afternoon news conference at APD headquarters, city and police officials denounced the violence and assured the community that they were working together and devoting every possible resource to the investigation, Albuquerque Journal reported. 

“We urge our entire interfaith community of Albuquerque and all the people of Albuquerque to help law enforcement identify and catch the person or persons responsible,” said Michelle Melendez, the office’s director. “Please, please, call with any bit of information.” 

Deputy Chief Josh Brown, with APD’s Field Services Bureau, said the department was consulting its partners in the Muslim community to determine what they need and where they’re most vulnerable when deciding where to put its resources.

Their remarks were translated into Arabic, Farsi, Dari and Urdu.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2022

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