By STEFANIE DAZIO and MARIAM FAM
Authorities identified the fourth victim in a series of killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Monday as the deaths struck fear in Islamic communities across the country.
Three of the killings took place in the past two weeks. Now law enforcement officials are looking for help finding a vehicle believed to be linked to the murders in New Mexico’s largest city. Common elements were the race and religion of the victims, officials said.
Naeem Hussain was killed on Friday evening, and ambush fire has killed three other Muslim men in the past nine months. Police are trying to determine if the homicides are linked.
The killings have struck fear beyond New Mexico, where Muslims make up less than 1% of adults in a population of 2.1 million, according to the Pew Research Center.
“The fact that the suspect is still at large is terrifying,” Debbie Almontaser, a New York Muslim community leader, wrote on Twitter. “Who’s next?!”
In a phone interview, Almontaser said a friend who lives in Michigan and wears the hijab headgear shared with her over the weekend how shaken she was. “She’s like, ‘This is so terrifying. I’m so scared. I’m traveling alone,'” Almontaser said.
Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His death came days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.
The first case concerns the murder in November of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan.
Aneela Abad, general secretary of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community reeling from the killings, their grief compounded by confusion and fear of what might come next.
“We are just completely shocked and still trying to figure out and figure out what happened, how and why,” she said.
Three of those killed came to the center, and the fourth was well known in the community, Abad said.
Some people have avoided going out unless “absolutely necessary” and some Muslim university students wonder if it is safe for them to stay in town. The center has also beefed up its security, she said.
Police say the same vehicle is believed to have been used in all four homicides – a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appears to be a Jetta or Passat with dark tinted windows. Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Investigators did not say where the footage was taken or what led them to suspect the car was involved in the murders. Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in an email Monday that the agency had received information about the car but did not provide details.
“We have a very, very strong bond,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. “We have a vehicle that interests us… We need to find this vehicle.”
Gallegos said he could not comment on the type of firearm used in the shooting, or whether police knew how many suspects were involved in the violence.
President Joe Biden said he was “angry and saddened” by the killings and that his administration “stands firmly with the Muslim community.”
“These hateful attacks have no place in America,” Biden said in a tweet on Sunday.
The security conversation has also dominated WhatsApp groups and messaging groups where Almontaser is active.
“What we’ve seen happen in New Mexico is very frightening for us as a minority Muslim community in the United States that has suffered so much backlash and discrimination” since the 9/11 attacks, she said. . “It’s frightening.”
Few anti-Muslim hate crimes have been recorded in Albuquerque over the past five years, 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 in San Bernardino. .
From 2017 to 2020, there was one anti-Muslim hate crime per year. The highest recent number dates back to 2016, when Albuquerque police recorded six out of 25 hate crimes.
That largely follows national trends, which hit the lowest numbers in a decade in 2020, only to rise 45% in 2021 in a dozen cities and states, Levin said.
Albuquerque authorities say they cannot determine whether the killings were hate crimes until they identify a suspect and a motive.
Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said harmful killings are often carried out by a small group of people, usually young white men. A single author is rare.
“They are basically losers on every level, be it social, economic, psychological, etc.,” he said. “They are filled with hatred for one reason or another and target a particular group that they see, in their mind, to be blamed for all their problems in life.”
It was unclear whether the victims knew their attacker(s).
The most recent victim was found dead after police received a call of a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the murder was committed in a manner similar to the other deaths.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local MP’s campaign.
Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury released a statement praising him as “one of the kindest, hardest-working people” she has ever known. She said the planner was “committed to making our public spaces work for every person and cleaning up legacy pollution”.
As director of land use for the city of Española — more than 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Albuquerque — Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusion for disadvantaged minorities, according to the office. of the mayor.
City staff “have lost a member of our family, and we have all lost a brilliant public servant,” Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Fam from Winter Park, Florida. Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington and AP researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.