New Jersey imam shot dead outside mosque, no suspect or motive identified

Published January 4, 2024
A member of the community talks to the police outside the Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque following the shooting of Imam Hassan Sharif in Newark, New Jersey, US, January 3, 2024. — Reuters
A member of the community talks to the police outside the Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque following the shooting of Imam Hassan Sharif in Newark, New Jersey, US, January 3, 2024. — Reuters

An imam who was shot on Wednesday outside a mosque in New Jersey has died, the US state’s attorney general said, adding that the killing did not initially appear to be driven by “bias” or domestic terrorism.

Hassan Sharif was shot multiple times outside Masjid Muhammad in Newark, just west of New York, before being taken to hospital where he later died, New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said.

“We do not yet know the motivation for this crime (but) the evidence collected thus far does not indicate that this was an act motivated by bias, or an act of domestic terrorism,” said Platkin.

He added that “in light of global events, and with a rise in bias that many communities are experiencing across our state — particularly the Muslim community — there are many in New Jersey right now who are feeling a heightened sense of fear”.

The state is home to 300,000 Muslim Americans, he said.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, there has been an increase in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks across the United States.

The Essex County prosecutor, Ted Stephens, confirmed Sharif was shot more than once a little after 6am, and that “it does not appear the imam was the victim of a bias crime or that this is related to terrorism”.

“We are dedicated to bringing justice for the imam’s family,” said Stephens, who called it a “dastardly crime”.

The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) earlier confirmed that Sharif had worked as a security screener at Newark airport since 2016.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and send our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.

Images published by the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) showed police vehicles deployed outside the Masjid Muhammad-Newark, a two-story yellow and green complex.

In a statement, CAIR described Sharif as “a beacon of leadership and excellence”.

“As always, and irrespective of this specific incident, we advise all mosques to keep their doors open but remain cautious especially given the recent spike in anti-Muslim bigotry,” the organisation said.

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