WASHINGTON: A false sense of honour seems to have caused a 51-year-old man to kill four men in the US state of New Mexico because he believed they facilitated his daughter’s marriage against his will.

The suspect, Mohammed Syed, killed three men in the last two weeks and one in November in Albuque­rque, a city in New Mexico. Three of them were from the Shia community, like the man his daughter married, and one was a Sunni.

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has cha­rged Syed with two of the homicides, the July 26 murder of Aftab Hussein and the Aug 1 murder of Muha­mmad Afzaal Hussain. All four victims were of Afghan or Pakistani descent.

The police are still working with the District Attorney’s office on potential charges for the other two homicides — the Aug 5 murder of Nadeem Hussain and the November 2021 murder of Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi.

APD Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock told a news conference that investigators were still piecing together motives for the killings.

Syed’s daughter, whose name has not been disclosed, told police she did not believe her father could have murdered four innocent people. “He just cannot, he is a peace-loving person who came to the US to escape the tyranny of the Taliban.”

After his arrest, Syed told investigators he was trained by US Special Forces to fight the Taliban and he did. He arrived from Afghanistan six years ago.

Interviews with community members, media reports and police statements show the girl had a love marriage, even though Syed opposed it.

This happened nearly four years ago. Gradually, Syed accepted the marriage and maintained cordial, but not close, relations with the couple.

“But he held a grudge against those who facilitated the marriage,” said Tahir Gauba, Director Public Affairs at the Islamic Centre of New Mexico (ICNM) where all four victims, as well as the suspect, prayed.

Gauba recalled that Ahmadi’s funeral, like those of others, was also held at ICNM. After the November 2021 funeral, someone slashed two tyres of his sister’s car. The incident was not probed.

It was Afzaal’s murder that persuaded the police, as well as the ICNM administration, to look into the matter. “So, we decided to check the video of Ahmadi’s funeral and we discovered that it’s Syed who slashed the tyres,” Gauba said.

Afzaal, although a Sunni and a Pakistani, was a senior official in the city government. The suspect believed Afzaal’s support enabled his daughter to marry against his will, “and that’s why he targeted him,” Gauba said.

“We never had Shia-Sunni conflict in our community, he said. “Afzaal was very involved in community works, very friendly to everybody.”

Police said as their detectives prepared to search Syed’s home in Southeast Albuquerque on Monday, he drove about 125 miles from the residence in the Volkswagen Jetta that detectives believe was used in one of the murders.

“Detectives detained Syed and searched his home and the vehicle. They discovered additional evidence that further ties Syed to the murders,” the police said.

“Detectives connected those homicides using bullet casings found at the scenes. The gun used in these shootings was discovered during the overnight search of [Syed’s] home,” police said.

In response to reporters’ questions, APD Hartsock said sectarian animus by the suspect towards his fellow Muslim victims may have played a role in the violence.

“But we’re not really clear if that was the actual motive, or if it was part of a motive, or if there is just a bigger picture that we’re missing,” he said.

Syed has a record of criminal misdemeanors in the United States, including a case of domestic violence, over the last three or four years, Hartsock said.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2022

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