ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – Police in New Mexico’s largest city are trying to determine whether the ambush deaths of three Muslim men over the past nine months could be linked.
The Albuquerque Police Department has confirmed that local detectives and federal law enforcement officials are investigating possible links between the individual crimes. Two of the men – Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41 – were killed in the past week and both were from Pakistan and were members of the same mosque. The third case concerns the killing in November of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, a Muslim man of South Asian descent.
Deputy Police Commander Kyle Hartsock declined to give details, but said the similarities between the victims were race and religion.
“We take this very seriously. We want the public’s help in identifying this cowardly individual,” Hartsock said during a news conference Thursday outside the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
The governor, the mayor of Albuquerque and civil rights groups have raised concerns, saying that violence against members of the community based on race or religion will not be tolerated.
Hartsock reiterated that authorities cannot yet say whether the shootings constitute hate crimes until they have identified a suspect and determined a motive.
The killings came as Albuquerque heads for another record year of killings.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Friday offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the deaths. The council is the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the country.
“When a bias motive is identified, state and federal authorities should bring appropriate hate crime charges,” said Nihad Awad, director of the national group.
The two most recent murders took place in southeast Albuquerque. Ahmadi was killed behind the market and cafe he owned with his brother.
“In all three cases, the victims were ambushed, shot at and killed without warning,” Hartsock said.
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said he did not believe the three victims knew each other, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
“Certainly the community needs to understand the enormity of the behavior displayed in all three shootings,” Assed said at a news conference. “If it is true that we were attacked as Muslims, then you must be very vigilant to protect yourself and take precautions. They have to be aware of their surroundings.”