Authorities on Monday identified the fourth victim in a string of killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the deaths sparked waves of fear from Islamic communities nationwide.
Three of the murders happened in the past two weeks. Now law enforcement officials are looking for help locating a vehicle believed to be linked to the murders in New Mexico’s largest city. The common elements were the race and religion of the victims, officials said.
Albuquerque Police are searching for a vehicle suspected of killing four Muslim men
Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night and three other Muslim men have been killed by gunfire in the past nine months. Police are trying to determine if the murders are linked.
The killings have spread fear beyond New Mexico, where Muslims make up less than 1% of adults in the state’s population of 2.1 million, according to the Pew Research Center.
“The fact that the suspect remains at large is appalling,” wrote Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim community leader in New York, on Twitter. “Who’s next?!”
In a phone interview, Almontaser said a friend who lives in Michigan and wears the hijab hat told her over the weekend how upset she was. “She says, ‘This is so scary. I’m so afraid. I’m traveling alone,” said Almontaser.
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Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His deaths came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.
The earliest case concerns the killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, of Afghanistan in November.
Aneela Abad, secretary general of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community devastated by the killings and whose grief is compounded by confusion and fear of what may follow.
“We’re just completely shocked and we’re still trying to grasp and understand what happened, how and why,” she said.
Three of those killed attended the center and the fourth was known in the community, Abad said.
Some people have avoided going out unless it is “absolutely necessary”, and some Muslim university students have questioned whether it is safe for them to stay in the city. The center has also strengthened its security, she said.
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Police said the same vehicle is suspected to have been used in all four murders – a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appears to be a Jetta or Passat with tinted windows. Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
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Investigators did not say where the pictures were taken or what led them to believe the car was involved in the murders. Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in an email on Monday that the agency had received tips about the car but had not elaborated.
“We have a very, very strong connection,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. “We have an interesting vehicle? We need to find this vehicle.”
Gallegos said he could not comment on what type of gun was used in the shooting or if police know how many suspects were involved in the violence.
President Joe Biden said he was “upset and saddened” by the killings and that his administration “stands strongly behind the Muslim community”.
“These hateful attacks have no place in America,” Biden said in a tweet Sunday.
The conversation about security has also dominated WhatsApp groups and email groups where Almontaser is active.
“What we saw in New Mexico is very chilling for us as a minority Muslim community in the United States that has endured so much setback and discrimination since the September 11 attacks,” she said. “It is frightening.”
According to FBI data cited by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and professor of criminal justice at California State University at San Bernardino, few anti-Muslim hate crimes have been recorded in Albuquerque over the past five years.
From 2017 to 2020 there was one anti-Muslim hate crime every year. The highest current number was in 2016, when Albuquerque police recorded six hate crimes out of a total of 25.
This is broadly in line with national trends, which hit their lowest numbers in a decade in 2020, only to increase 45% in a dozen cities and states in 2021, Levin said.
Albuquerque authorities say they cannot determine whether the killings are hate crimes until they identify a suspect and a motive.
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Louis Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said prejudice murders are often committed by a small group of people, typically young white males. A lone wolf is rare.
“They are basically total losers in every way, be it social, economic, psychological or whatever,” he said. “They are full of hatred for one reason or another and target a specific group that they feel is responsible for all of their problems in life.”
It was not clear if the victims knew their attacker or attackers.
The latest victim was found dead after police received a call about a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the murder was carried out in a manner similar to the other deaths.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local congresswoman’s campaign.
Democratic MP Melanie Stansbury issued a statement praising him as “one of the kindest, hardest working people” she’s ever known. She said the city planner is “bound to make sure our public spaces work for all people and legacy issues are cleaned up.”
As land use director for the city of Espanola — more than 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Albuquerque — Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusion for disadvantaged minorities, according to the mayor’s office.
City employees “lost a member of our family, and we all lost a brilliant official,” Espanola Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/9046068/albuquerque-killings-muslim-communities-new-mexico/ Albuquerque killings spread fear among Muslim communities across New Mexico – National