A man arrested as the prime suspect in the serial killing of four Muslim men in Albuquerque is believed to be a Sunni Muslim himself, it has been reported.
Police named the man as 51-year-old Muhammad Syed, who lived in southeast Albuquerque.
He emigrated from Afghanistan ‘in the last few years’, police said on Tuesday, and was twice charged with domestic violence – but charges were dropped.
Court records obtained by DailyMail.com show Syed was arrested in May 2018 and charged with ‘battery (household member)’. He pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors dropped the charges in August of that year.
Four months later, on December 23, 2018, Syed was charged with aggravated battery. The case was dismissed in April 2019.
It is believed that the suspected killer himself was a Sunni Muslim – and may have targeted his victims because he was angry over his daughter marrying a Shiite Muslim, according to the New York Times.
But the brother of one of the victims told DailyMail.com their family was Sunni, not Shiite, and he did not believe the hypothesis.
Albuquerque police on Tuesday said Syed was identified through his car, thanks to tip offs from the community.
‘As detectives prepared to search Syed’s home on Monday, Syed drove from the residence in the Volkswagen Jetta that detectives believe was used in at least one of the murders,’ they said in a statement.
‘Detectives detained Syed and searched his home and the vehicle.
‘They discovered evidence that further tied Syed to the murders.
‘Detectives discovered evidence that show the offender knew the victims to some extend and an interpersonal conflict may have led to the shootings.’
Syed has been charged with two of the murders that have rocked New Mexico’s largest city: the July 26 killing of Aftab Hussein, 41, and the August 1 death of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27. Both men moved to the U.S. from Pakistan.
Police say the gun used in those two shootings was found in Syed’s home.
The other two victims were both Afghan-born: Mohammad Zahir Ahmadi, 62 and Naeem Hussain, 25.
Four Muslim men have been shot and killed within a five-mile radius of each other over the past nine months
All of the victims had immigrated to the United States from South Asia, and were fatally shot within a five-mile radius of each other over the past nine months.
Islam’s great schism
In Islam, Sunnis and Shiites differ on who should have succeeded the Prophet Muhammad after his death in 632.
Sunnis supported the succession of Abu Bakr, the prophet’s friend, whereas Shiite Muslims believe the successor should have been the prophet’s son-in-law and cousin, Ali bin Abu Talib.
This difference has been the root cause of conflicts across the Islamic world for centuries.
Sunnis believe Muslim leaders can be elected for the job.
But Shiites believe leaders should be direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.
The two denominations still believe in the same holy book – the Quran – and they also pray to the same god – Allah.
Ahmad Assed, president of the city’s largest mosque, said he had been told that a hatred of Shiite Muslims was being investigated as a possible motive.
Yet Imtiaz Hussain, the brother of Afzaal Hussain, told DailyMail.com that he did not support the theory.
‘My brother is a Sunni Muslim. Not a Shite Muslim,’ said Imtiaz, who was a prosecutor in Pakistan before moving to Albuquerque.
‘So I reject the theory that has been widely published that Muhammad Syed killed my brother and others because his daughter married a Shiite Muslim.
‘My brother was a Muslim. He never carried any ID that said he was a Sunni or Shiite.’
Imtiaz Hussain also said he did not believe his brother knew Syed.
‘He only went to the Islamic Center every three to four months,’ he continued.
‘I’ve never meet this person who murdered my brother nor do I think my brother knew him.
‘He’s 51 years old, my brother is 30 years younger, they wouldn’t have a lot in common with that age gap.’
Assed said the fear in his community was even more intense than after the September 11 attacks, when anti-Muslim sentiment was heightened.
‘To experience something as atrocious and as horrific as what we’ve experienced the past few weeks is just mind-boggling,’ Assed said, adding people were afraid to go near windows.
‘It feels like we’re in a parallel universe.’
Police would not be drawn on their findings so far.
‘The motives are still being explored,’ said Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock.
The different denominations of Islam splintered off and have opposing beliefs on who should have succeeded Muhammad. Both branches of the religion still follow the same holy book and worship the same god.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina announced on Twitter Tuesday: ‘We tracked down the vehicle believed to be involved in a recent murder of a Muslim man in Albuquerque.
‘The driver was detained and he is our primary suspect for the murders.’
Hartsock said: ‘Right now we are only charging one person. If the evidence leads us to someone else, we’re going to follow the evidence.’
He said the ballistic evidence from the murders had not yet been returned to them.
Hartsock said they were tipped off by someone in the community, through the Ambassador’s Program which works on community relations.
Police received over 200 tips, they said.
The announcement comes just a day after the Albuquerque Police Department released photos of a dark gray sedan spotted by witnesses at one of the murder scenes, which they believed were used by the killer.
‘Praise Allah,’ said Tahir Gauba the director for public affairs for the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
He told DailyMail.com: ‘The entire Muslim community had been paralyzed by fear, especially since last Friday’s murder of Naeem Hussain.
‘People weren’t going outside. They weren’t shopping. The were fearful of being shot.’
Hussain said he’s hopeful police have the man who was responsible for the four men’s murders.
‘We need to be able to have peace in our life and go forward.’
Police had offered a $20,000 reward for any information leading to a suspect, as Muslim residents avoided going outside and questioned whether they were safe in the ‘immigrant friendly’ city.
Albuquerque officials are expected to provide more information at a news briefing at 3.30pm local time.
Mohammad Zahir Ahmadi, 62, was the first Muslim man killed in Albuquerque back in November 2021
The victims of an apparent serial killer include Aftab Hussein, 41, left, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot near the University of New Mexico on August 1. All of the victims immigrated to the United States from South Asia, and all practice the Muslim faith
Naeem Hussein, 25, became the most recent victim when he was gunned down in the middle of the street on Friday night
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina announced on Tuesday that a ‘primary suspect’ has been arrested in the murder of four Muslim men
Imtiaz Hussain (pictured) said his murdered brother Afzaal wanted to become a US congressman
The most recent killing came on Friday, when Naeem Hussein was gunned down in the middle of the street.
His death came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein, who were also from Pakistan and were members of the same mosque.
He had migrated to the United States as a refugee from Pakistan in 2016, CNN reported, fleeing persecution as a Shia Muslim.
Afzaal’s brother Imtiaz Hussain told DailyMail.com: ‘Whoever did this hunted my brother down like an animal. My brother didn’t have an enemy in the world.
‘He was planning on getting his US passport in the coming years and his American dream was to be a US Congressman from New Mexico.’
Imtiaz said his brother loved politics and loved America. ‘My brother was only the second Muslim student president of the University of New Mexico in the schools 150-year history.’
He said that his brother went outside to take a phone call around 9:15 PM on August 1 and was gunned down in cold blood.
Imtiaz said the medical examiner told him that two guns were used in the attack: a pistol, and some sort of long gun.
Imtiaz said his family wanted to take Muhammad’s body and fly it back to Pakistan, but his facial and head wounds were too grim.
Imtiaz showed DailyMail.com a photograph of his dead brother at the medical examiner’s office. The picture shows Afzaal covered in a white sheet, with only half of his face visible. Imtiaz said the other half he said was blown off by the gunshot wound.
A neighbor, Daniel Byrn, who lives several doors down where Afzaal was gunned down in the front of his house on the sidewalk, told DailyMail.com: ‘I didn’t hear anything, I was asleep. But when the sirens started blaring, I looked outside my window and saw the body on the sidewalk.
‘I was told by police to stay inside my house.’
It wasn’t until the next day he noticed two bullets had ricocheted off his neighbor’s garage. He said police told him they couldn’t find the casings.
Imtiaz is thankful a suspect has been arrested.
‘We’ve been living in fear ever since this happened. Now my two boys can go out on the balcony and play like normal kids,’ he said.
Another neighbor who witnessed the shooting and who lives across the street from where Afzaal was murdered said she heard the gunfire.
Baylee Cassel told DailyMail.com she was sitting in her front room when she heard several gunshots.
She had looked out of her front window and saw a dark four-door sedan turning the corner onto her street, and seconds later stopping for a moment in front of a house.
She saw flashes of gunfire from the driver side, out the passenger side window.
She thinks she heard five or six gunshots.
Cassel said: ‘I couldn’t tell how many people where in the car, the back window and the driver windows were rolled up.
‘I could only see inside the car for a few seconds when the driver started shooting out the passenger window.
‘When that started, I ducked down for fear of him seeing me.’
Cassel said she wasn’t even aware of who the driver of the vehicle was shooting.
She said since the incident she has now installed a Ring camera recorder outside her door.
The murders shocked Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico.
Police released photos on Sunday of a dark gray sedan they believed were used to transport the victims after it was spotted by witnesses at one of the murder scenes
Naeem Hussein had just become a United States citizen last month, his brother-in-law Ehsan Shahalami said, and he had opened his own trucking business earlier this year.
He had previously worked as a case manager for Lutheran Family Services, helping refugees who were relocated the United States from Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops from the country.
It was in that parking lot that he was shot and killed while in his car, the New York Times reports.
Hussein has been described as a kind, generous and hardworking person.
The day he was killed, a spokesman at one of the local mosques said, he had attended a funeral for two other victims — and had expressed his fears about the shootings.
Muslim-American organizations and activists have since been calling on the federal government to deploy resources to apprehend the attacker, with Al Jazeera reporting that the Council on American Islamic Relations urged the White House last week to take a ‘direct role in responding to this shooting spree.’
On Sunday, President Joe Biden issued a statement saying he was ‘angered and saddened by the horrific killings.’
New Mexico Gov Michelle Lujan Grisham also called the shootings ‘wholly intolerable,’ promising to do everything possible to support the state’s growing Muslim population.
‘I am sending additional State Police officers to Albuquerque to work in close coordination with APD and the FBI to bring the killer or killers to justice,’ she wrote on Twitter Saturday, ‘and they WILL be found.’
City officials have sought over the passed few years to affirm Albuquerque’s status as an ‘immigrant friendly city,’ the New York Times reports, restricting federal immigration agents from entering city-operated facilities and city employees from collecting immigration status information.
There are now at least eight mosques in the city, and city officials have recently strengthened outreach efforts through translators that speak Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.
In a news conference following Hussein’s death on Saturday, Medina announced ‘there is reason to believe that this death is related to those shootings.’
He said at the time he was in constant contact with the FBI and leaders of the local Muslim community to investigate the shooting, noting officers were working overtime to patrol Muslim neighborhoods and he was keeping a police presence in the area at all times.
The local Muslim community has been left shaken as they held a funeral for two of the victims on Friday, both of whom attended the same mosque
Assed, the president of Islamic Center of New Mexico, also spoke at the conference to condemn the string of murders in a city with between 5,000 to 10,000 Muslim residents.
‘Our community is devastated,’ Assed said. ‘We’ve never gone through anything like this before.
‘We’re in fear of the safety of our children, of our families… but the message of hope still resonates. We need to find and capture this perpetrator or perpetrators.’
‘Evil will not win. Hate will not win. And we will defeat evil and hate by working together.’
The first murder was carried out on the evening of November 7.
Mohammad Ahmadi was found outside the café he ran with his brother Sharief A. Hadi – Ariana Halal Market & Café.
The Afghan-born brothers emigrated to the United States with their father in the early 1980s: first living in Pennsylvania, then moving to New Mexico after Hadi, making a living selling gemstones, came across the region and loved it.
‘I had to travel all over, then I got to New Mexico,’ Hadi told ABP News Online. ‘I like it – the weather and the people were so nice. And I chose to stay here because of my business.’
Hadi and his brother opened the market in 2008, with Ahmadi working as a cook, specializing in traditional Afghan dishes and often catering for groups at the nearby university.
Aftab Hussein worked as a busser for a local cafe and was putting together travel documents so he could return to Pakistan and get married before he was killed
He said he left Ahmadi at the shop to finish cooking, and suspects his brother had gone out to smoke a cigarette when he was shot around 6pm.
‘I left at 5 o’clock and he had laid down in the back,’ Hadi said.
‘When I went home someone called me and said ‘Sharief what’s going on at your store?’ When I came back the police were all over.’
Hadi in January said he was baffled by the unsolved murder.
‘I don’t have anything to tell you,’ he said. ‘He is my brother. I loved him, he loved me.’
Eight months later, a second Muslim man was murdered: Aftab Hussein, who moved to New Mexico in 2016.
Working as a busser for a local café, Hussein rented a second-story apartment near the Mesa Verde Community Center with two roommates and told them he had recently got engaged to a woman back home in Pakistan.
He was working to get his passport and other travel documents together so he could go to Pakistan and get married, his friend Iftikhar Amirjan told The Albuquerque Journal.
‘He was very happy. He said ‘I’ll go to Pakistan and get married and bring my wife here’ and he said ‘I’ll make my life,’ you know,’ Amirjan said.
‘He said ‘I’ll buy a house later on and have children.”
Hussein was shot in the evening of July 26 in the parking lot of the complex where he lived.
Altaf Hussein sprinkles dirt over the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein, who was murdered on July 28 in the parking lot of his apartment complex
Along with Hussein, the community mourned the loss of 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, a native of Pakistan who was an active member of the community
Ahmad Assed, the president of Islamic Center of New Mexico, condemned the killings and said the community will do whatever it can to assist the FBI’s probe
His roommates, frightened, have since moved out, while Hussein’s brother has flown in from the United Kingdom.
The third killing was on July 26, when well-known local community organizer and city planner Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was murdered outside his home.
Born in Pakistan, he moved to the United States in 2017 to get a master’s degree in community and regional planning at the University of New Mexico and served as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association from 2019 to 2020.
He worked with Representative Melanie Stansbury’s campaign for Congress and then got a job as the planning and land use director for the city of Española, 90 miles north of Albuquerque.
Hussein had been commuting for the past year but had planned to move to Española.
His older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, a former prosecutor who moved to the U.S. in 2014 to continue studying law, had been staying with his sibling, and brought his two young children with him.
Jordan Yutzy, the Española city manager, said the team was in shock.
‘He is going to be truly missed by the city,’ Yutzy said.
‘He was very smart, very dedicated, and really cared about the community as a whole. His will be very big shoes for the city to fill.’
The University of New Mexico also said it was ‘deeply saddened to hear about the tragic and sudden loss of a cherished alumni’ who ‘was a prominent student leader and vibrant human being.’
‘Muhammad was an inspiring leader and a really special Lobo who touched so many lives,’ UNM President Garnett Stokes said. ‘It was my privilege to know and work with him.’
Stansbury tweeted: ‘As we grieve the unthinkable loss of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, law enforcement has released new information that his shooting may be linked with the deaths of Mohammad Admadi and Aftab Hussein in our community.
‘We are working closely with federal, state, and local partners to protect our Muslim, immigrant, and Middle Eastern communities and bring those responsible to justice. Our communities will not tolerate hate in any form.’
Martin Heinrich, senator for New Mexico, meanwhile, said: ‘Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was a pillar in the UNM community and an incredible force for good.
‘I’m very concerned by law enforcement reports that his murder may be linked to two other murders of Muslim men in Albuquerque. Racist, hate-fueled violence has no place in New Mexico.’
And Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque, said the city will continue to ‘stand by our Muslim neighbors’.
‘While we do not have all the answers yet, what we do know is that violence against members of our community based on race or religion will not be tolerated in Albuquerque,’ he said in a statement.