On Friday afternoon, Naeem Hussain attended the funerals of two Muslim men killed in the past two weeks. He then joined other mourners, sharing a meal, at the Islamic Center of New Mexico. Then he left.
Several hours later, shortly before midnight, Naeem Hussain was shot dead in the parking lot of an organization that provides services to refugees and asylum seekers near San Mateo and Copper NE, according to the Islamic Center spokesperson.
His death was the latest in what police suspect is a string of killings targeting Muslim men because of their race and religion.
“Now people are starting to panic,” said Tahir Gauba, director of public affairs for the Islamic Center of New Mexico, who added that he had been fielding phone calls all day about the death.
The two men who were buried on Friday – Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27 – were shot dead near their homes on July 26 and August 1, respectively. Police say they were ambushed.
On Saturday, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesperson said the recent homicides have led detectives to try to determine if the fatal Nov. 7 shooting of 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi was also linked. Ahmadi was killed behind a halal market he owned with his brother. An ODA official previously said there was a “strong possibility” that the three earlier killings were linked.
Gauba said the Muslim community – especially the student population who live near the area where the last two shootings took place – are very scared. He said Naeem Hussain was from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Right now it’s really difficult to deal with this,” Gauba said. “I mean mostly right after the funeral, same day, this thing happened again. So it’s just really crazy.
All possible resources
At a hastily called press conference at APD headquarters on Saturday afternoon, local law enforcement and city leaders denounced the violence and assured the community that they were working together and were devoting all possible resources to the investigation.
Arabic, Farsi, Dari and Urdu speaking translators translated the remarks from the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
“We urge our entire Albuquerque interfaith community and all Albuquerque residents to assist law enforcement in identifying and catching the person or persons responsible,” said Michelle Melendez, director of the office. “Please, please call with any information.”
Police Chief Harold Medina – who spoke to reporters via zoom because he is in isolation with COVID-19 – said the department was working closely with the FBI. The New Mexico State Police, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service are also assisting.
“In addition to our investigations into this murder, we are dedicating resources to patrol major areas and neighborhoods in Albuquerque,” Medina said. “We have lifted overtime caps for our officers so that we can utilize many of our specialty units to help ensure Albuquerque’s strong officer presence to keep the community safe.”
Deputy Chief Josh Brown, of ODA’s field services office, said the department had consulted with partners in the Muslim community to determine what they needed and where they were most vulnerable when deciding where invest their resources.
“We’re going to have multiple command posts stationed in key areas of the city,” Brown said. “This will allow people who…if they see something and don’t have immediate access to the phone or communication to stop, give advice, talk to the law enforcement officers who are there and available in the area.”
On Saturday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she would send additional state troopers to Albuquerque to patrol and work with the ODA and FBI.
“I am angry and saddened that this is happening in New Mexico, a place that prides itself on diversity of culture and thought. It’s not who we are,” said Lujan Grisham. “We will not stop in our pursuit of justice for the victims and their families and we are doing everything we can to apprehend the killer(s) – and we will find them.”
The APD has increased the priority of appeals involving the Muslim community, Medina said, and urged Muslims to be especially vigilant and pay attention to each other.
“Let people know when you come in and out, make it very obvious that others are watching when you leave your car at home…” Medina said. “I think it’s important to let everyone know that we all take care of each other.”
‘A really nice person’
By midday Saturday, the intersection of Truman and Grand NE was calm.
The only sign of the nighttime violence that remained was the shattered glass of Naeem Hussain’s car windows in the Lutheran Family Services parking lot.
A friend of Naeem Hussain told the Journal that she met him about six years ago through the organization. She said he used to work with the program and there was a meeting Friday night.
She said she was told Naeem Hussain, who police say was in his 20s, became a US citizen just two weeks ago.
“He was a really nice person and there was no reason for anyone to kill him like that,” she said. “It’s just unexpected, what happened. It’s really heartbreaking for families. »
Gauba of the Islamic Center of New Mexico said Naeem Hussain was on the phone with his fiancée, who lives in Virginia, when he was shot.
“I think she heard the shot and she freaked out,” Gauba said. “So he didn’t answer after that, so she called one of her friends.” His friend went there and it was his friend who called 911.”