An investigation into the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has progressed with the arrest of a “primary suspect”.
Police announced the arrest on Tuesday, saying it was connected to the “recent murder of a Muslim man” and the suspect was tracked down via the vehicle they were driving.
The development came two days after authorities released a photo of a vehicle of interest in the probe encompassing the murders of four men: Aftab Hussein, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, Naeem Hussain and Mohammad Ahmadi.
Three of the four deaths happened in quick succession, leading investigators to argue a “strong possibility” the men were targeted because they had Muslim or South Asian backgrounds.
Police are expected to provide more information about Tuesday’s arrest at an afternoon press conference. In the meantime, here’s what we know so far:
Four killings believed to be linked
On 26 July, Aftab Hussein, 41, a café worker and member of Albuquerque’s large Afghan community, was found dead from gunshot wounds near the city international’s district.
Two weeks later, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, who came to the US from Pakistan and worked as planning director for the city of Española, was also found dead from gunshot wounds in Albuquerque.
Then, on Friday, Naeem Hussain was shot to death in the parking lot of an Albuquerque NGO that offers services to refugees and asylum seekers, according to the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
Mr Hussain, who is from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has no apparent relation to Muhammad Hussain, had visited a funeral for two other slain men the day of his killing.
“Now, people are beginning to panic,” Tahir Gauba, the director of public affairs for the Islamic Center of New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal. “I mean especially right after the funeral, the same day, that thing happened again. So it’s just really crazy.”
Police believe the killings may be linked to the death of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot behind the halal market he owned with his brother in November
“There’s one strong commonality in all of our victims — their race and religion,” Albuquerque police Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said this week during a press briefing, as per Reuters.
Victim’s brother describes fear gripping Albuquerque
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain’s brother spoke to The Independent on Monday, describing the shockwaves the recent killings have sent through the community.
In the immediate wake of his brother’s death, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain said he couldn’t comprehend why his sibling would have been targeted. That changed when he learned two other Muslim men had been gunned down in the same part of Albuquerque in a matter of days.
“Then we thought something was happening against Muslims,” he told The Independent.
Mr Hussain said that while he won’t jump to conclusions until authorities pin down a motive, the possibility of a faith-based link has upended his community.
“No one went to work, no one went outside for groceries, people cancelled their meetings. I cannot sit on my balcony. I cannot go outside of my apartment. This is very painful for us,” he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is reportedly offering a $10,000 reward for anyone with information leading to arrests for those involved in the killing. Albuquerque police are offering a $15,000 reward, as per NPR.
Officials have called for community members of all backgrounds to work together and find a stop to the killing.
“This is something that impacts us all,” Bernalillo County district attorney Raúl Torrez said during a news conference on Saturday. “Every member of this community has to stand up.”
The city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion provided information about the killings in Arabic, Farsi, Dari, and Urdu on Saturday and asked for community help in catching the killer or killers.
“We urge our entire interfaith community of Albuquerque and all the people of Albuquerque to help law enforcement identify and catch the person or persons responsible,” Michelle Melendez, who directs the office, said during the briefing. “Please, please, call with any bit of information.”
Local leaders condemned the violence. Ahmad Assed, the president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, told The New York Times: “We are incredibly sickened with the idea that someone has this much hate against innocent people. We’re scared for our families, we’re scared for our children. And we are incredibly confused about why this is happening.”
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Saturday on Twitter the murders were “deeply angering and wholly intolerable” and promised “to do everything we can to support to the Muslim community of Albuquerque and greater New Mexico during this difficult time.”
“You are New Mexicans, you are welcomed here, and we stand with you,” she added.
Local police, as well as the FBI; New Mexico State Police; Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service are all assisting in the investigation.
“On top of our investigations into this murder, we’re devoting resources to key patrol areas and neighborhoods within Albuquerque,” APD Chief Harold Medina said on Saturday. “We lifted overtime caps for our officers so that we could utilize several of our specialized units to help ensure the strong presence of Albuquerque officers to keep the community safe.”
According to the most recent federal data, there were 55 reported hate crime incidents in 2020, up from 50 in 2019, incidents disproportionately targeted African-Americans.