A 51-year-old man has been arrested and charged for allegedly killing two Muslim men who he knew to some extent in Albuquerque, New Mexico, police said during a news conference Tuesday.
A tip from the community led authorities to the suspect, identified as Muhammad Syed, they said, and multiple firearms were recovered from his home. Police said they believe the suspect is tied to the murders of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. Police said they believe the suspect may be involved in the homicides of the two other Muslim men, but they are still working on those cases.
Over the last nine months in Albuquerque, four Muslim men have been fatally shot.
The most recent shooting death took place on Friday, and law enforcement officials said over the weekend they believe that their deaths are connected.
“These shootings are disturbing," Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said during a Saturday press conference. "We are putting every possible resource into these investigations."
Even before Friday’s shooting of 25-year-old Naeem Hussain, police had been investigating the deaths of two Muslim men in the span of a week.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot dead on Aug. 1. Aftab Hussein, 41, was found dead of gunshot wounds on July 26. Both men lived in southeast Albuquerque, were from Pakistan, and attended the same mosque, according to the New York Times.
On Tuesday, authorities said they believed the suspect knew Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Hussein "to some extend" and had an "interpersonal conflict" with them. No additional information has yet been released about a potential motive.
Following the shooting deaths on July 26 and Aug. 1, police had said in a statement that they were reexamining the death of Mohammad Ahmadi, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021, outside of a business he co-owned with his brother.
“Our homicide detectives and our investigators currently believe there is a strong possibility that the same individual committed all three of these crimes,” Kyle Hartsock, deputy commander of APD’s Criminal Investigations Division, said in the statement. “While we won’t go into why we think that, there’s one strong commonality in all of our victims, their race and religion.”
Hartsock said that in the cases of Ahmadi, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, and Hussein, the shooter “ambushed the victims with no warning, fired shots, and killed them.”
Then came Friday’s killing of Naeem Hussain. Medina said Saturday that “there is reason to believe” his death is related to the three earlier killings. In a tweet posted after the press conference, Medina noted that the Crime Stoppers tip line reward for providing information about the shootings leading to an arrest has been increased to $20,000.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement Saturday that it will award $10,000 to the person who provides information to law enforcement that results in an arrest.
The deaths had sparked concern in the local Muslim community.
“People are beginning to panic,” Tahir Gauba, the director of public affairs with the Islamic Center of New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal.
Gauba said that the funerals for Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Hussein had been held on Friday, hours before the fourth shooting took place. He said that Naeem Hussain, the fourth victim, had attended the service.
“Right now it is really tough to deal with it,” Gauba told the Journal. “Right after the funeral, the same day, that thing happened again. So it’s just really crazy.”
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Saturday that she would be sending additional state law enforcement personnel to Albuquerque to assist in the investigation and provide whatever support is necessary.
“I am angered and saddened that this is happening in New Mexico, a place that prides itself on diversity of culture and thought. This is not who we are,” she said. “We will not stop in our pursuit of justice for the victims and their families and are bringing every resource to bear to apprehend the killer or killers — and we WILL find them. In addition, we will continue to do everything we can to support to the Muslim community during this difficult time.”