Muslim community expresses fear after killing of men in Albuquerque

Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain is afraid to leave his home in Albuquerque to water his plants. Or retrieve books from his car. Or even venture onto your balcony.

“My kids won’t let me out of my apartment,” said Mr Hussain, 41, whose younger brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot and killed a week ago Monday a few blocks away. He was one of four muslim men who have been killed recently in the city – three in the past two weeks – and authorities believe the deaths are linked and intended to target the Muslim community.

The latest victim, a Muslim in his 20s from South Asia whose name has not been released by police, was killed just before midnight on Friday. Another man, Aftab Hussein, 41, was shot and killed on July 26. Authorities say the killings of the three may be linked to the November 2021 killing of 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi outside a business he and his brother ran.


As Albuquerque police, the FBI and state police appealed to the public for help in locating the killer or killers – on Sunday authorities described a vehicle of interest, a four-door Volkswagen sedan from dark color – the attacks left the Muslims in a state of terror.

A member who attended the Islamic Center of New Mexico, the same mosque as the four victims, said he may never return, citing fears of becoming “bait”.

Other members have temporarily left the state to stay with family members in other parts of the country pending the completion of the investigation. One man, who immigrated from Iraq, said he felt safer when he arrived in the country in the 1980s. Another member, Salem Ansari, said some of those who attend the mosque and night workers quit their jobs.

“This situation is getting so much worse,” Mr. Ansari said.

Ahmad Assed, president of the mosque, said he grew up in Albuquerque attending the Islamic Center but never felt isolated as a Muslim in the city. But now, he said, the community is going through a “kind of managed panic”.

The eldest, Mr Hussain, said he had lived safely in his neighborhood for eight years since moving to the United States with his wife and children. His brother Muhammad arrived in 2017, and the pair would hit the library at midnight or buy late-night coffees while attending the University of New Mexico as international students.

“Now I look out the window and think, ‘Oh, this is where my brother was killed. Should we move? “, He said.

Mr Hussain said he had originally hoped to send his brother’s body back to be buried with his family in Pakistan, but the numerous gunshot wounds had rendered his brother unrecognizable and Mr Hussain did not want his family the way. The killer “wanted to finish it off – the nine yards”, he said.

In general, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States are trending down. Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino and director of the school’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims was lower in 2020 than any year since 9/11, although he added that those numbers could be skewed due to pandemic restrictions.

But he said hate crimes remained a concern: they increased by more than 20% in 2021 and another 4.7% in the first half of 2022, the center reported. Furthermore, “underlying anti-Muslim attitudes” are pervasive and resurface during times of national hardship, according to Professor Levin’s studies.

Authorities have said they are refraining from using the term “hate” to qualify the crimes until a motive can be established.

Last year, the Islamic Center faced an attempted arson attack on a woman who police say started three fires at the mosque’s playground and a fire at the main entrance to the mosque. mosque. No one was injured and the woman was arrested and charged with arson. The case is pending.

The Islamic Center has asked its nearly 2,500 members to stay home as much as they can, to use the “buddy system” when going out and to refrain from “engaging with or ‘agitate’ anyone, Mr Assed said.

He added that he always felt supported by other communities, but this time he also felt a sense of “desperation and hopelessness”.

“I watch my back and get in the car. I watch everything around me,” he said. “You don’t know if they are following you from the mosque, if they are actually watching people come in and out of the mosque and follow them somewhere else. The model is unknown.

Some members of the community expressed frustration at the lack of detail in the police investigation, but Mr Assed said he was in contact with the authorities and understood why they had kept any developments a secret. Authorities have neither explained why they believe the killings are connected nor indicated whether there were any witnesses.

Mr Hussain said he wants the federal and state governments to devote as many resources as possible to catching the killer.

But until someone is caught, nothing is likely to ease their fear – or their grief.

“My 5-year-old keeps asking, ‘Hey, where’s my uncle?'” he said. “She’ll see me cry and say, ‘Are you crying? Why are you crying?’ But we can’t tell him. Not yet.”

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