Inside the New York mosque where Muslims are fearing for their lives

Police said they had arrested a 'person of interest' also wanted in connection with a separate incident  

Andrew Buncombe
Ozone Park, New York
Monday 15 August 2016 19:15
Queens community reacts to mosque shooting

On the street where 55-year-old Maulama Akonjee and his assistant were gunned down in afternoon sunshine, lamposts bore a wanted sign and a sketched drawing of a man police wanted to speak to in connection with the murder. Police patrol cars stood close to the location of the killings, and at the mosque where Mr Akonjee worked as the cleric, and Tharam Uddin helped him.

Those in the community had been told that a suspect was being questioned - later it would be reported that he had been charged with murder - but in the neighbourhood of Ozone Park, there was unease and anxiety as to what lay behind the killing on Saturday afternoon. Some believed it was most likely a robbery gone wrong, but members of Mr Akonjee's mosque, were sure it was a "hate crime".

In Queens, as burials proceeded for 55-year-old Mr Akonjee and Mr Uddin, members of the community said there was no reason for the men to be attacked.

Mosque leader Maulama Akonjee was shot and killed close to his mosque in the New York borough of Queens (Handout )

“This was a hate crime. There is nothing else,” Badrul Khan, a regular at the mosque, told The Independent. “He did his job. He did not make political statements. His job was here.”

The men were shot in Ozone Park area of Queens, New York, at around 2pm on Saturday afternoon. The men had left the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque after lunchtime prayers when they were shot a couple of streets away, their bodies left to lie in the street beneath rattling subway tracks.

CCTV footage of the incident showed a man walking behind the two men, raise a pistol and shoot them at close range. Both were shot in the head. The two men were taken to the nearby Jamaica Medical Centre Hospital, but neither could be saved. Police issued a $10,000 reward for information about the killings.


Mr Khan said the imam was a decent man who worked hard to explain the nuances of Islam to the mosque’s members. “We miss him. We know we can never replace him.”

Ozone Park is a multicultural neighbourhood in probably the most mixed borough of the world’s most diverse city. The mosque’s members are mainly, though not exclusively, from Bangladesh. Many came from the city of Sylhet.

There are many young families, and residents said they were startled by the shooting, carried out in daylight on a busy street. Kash Reti, who moved to the US from Nepal ten years ago, said the incident had made him consider moving.

Police are trying to determine if the men were victims of a hate crime (Andrew Buncombe )

“This used to be nice and quiet. A few months ago, a man was robbed a gun point by three men and the police weren’t able to catch them,” he said.

Anthony Dookie, who was mowing grass, said he was trying to keep to his daily routine. “You can’t let it get to you,” he said. “If you get scared, you stay in and then end up getting killed into your own home.”

Others voiced sterner concerns. Monir Chowdhury, who worshipped daily with the two men, said he had moved to the community because of its large Bangladeshi immigrant population, but in recent months has been harassed by people shouting anti-Muslim epithets.

He told the Associated Press that in one incident, a man called him “Osama” as he walked to the mosque with his three-year-old son.

“A lot of neighbours said, ‘Hey, don't take your kid with you’,” he said. “People, they just hate us.”

The New York Daily News said that after the shooting, the suspect jumped into a car and hit a cyclist as he sped from the scene. The cyclist was able to note down the car’s licence plate and passed the information to police. That was how they were able to track the man they described as a person of interest.

Investigators said on Monday that the car matched the description of one involved in an unsolved hit-and-run crash in Brooklyn. The man was taken into custody

Police on Sunday had released a sketch of the suspected gunman, a dark-haired, bearded man wearing glasses. He was described by witnesses as a man with a medium complexion.

Late on Monday, it was announced that a suspect had been charged with murder.

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