Police in Albuquerque are investigating a possible serial killer after three Muslim men were murdered within five miles of each other in the past nine months.
The trio were all ambushed and killed by a gunman alone outside their home or workplace.
They did not know each other, although the two most recent victims attended the same mosque.
After the third murder, on Monday, the Albuquerque Police Department and the FBI held a news conference in front of the New Mexico Islamic Center on Thursday to announce that investigators have found a “strong possibility” that the same attacker could have committed all three murders.
“While we won’t go into why we think there is a connection, there is one strong similarity between all of our victims: their race and religion,” said Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock.
He enlisted the public’s help in tracking down the killer.
A funeral was held Friday in Albuquerque for the two most recent victims: Aftab Hussein, 41, and 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, both from Pakistan.
Altaf Hussein cries Friday at the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein in Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque
Altaf Hussein scatters dirt over the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein, who was murdered on July 28 in the parking lot of his apartment complex
“My guess is that someone who has done this knows immediately who did this and can give that information to the police or they have noticed changes in behavior in someone around them that they think might be doing this,” Hartsock said.
“Two of these murders have taken place in (one) week. Whoever does them changes their lifestyle, their behaviour, there is more going wrong than usual.’
Tahir Gauba, a spokesman for the Islamic Center, said the Muslim community in Albuquerque was panicked by the news.
“We’ve never felt so much fear in our community,” Gauba said.
“I’ve never seen so much fear in my own family.”
The first murder was committed on the evening of November 7.
Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was found outside the cafe he ran with his brother Sharief A. Hadi – Ariana Halal Market & Cafe.
The Afghan-born brothers immigrated to the United States with their father in the early 1980s: first living in Pennsylvania, then moving to New Mexico after Hadi, earning a living selling gemstones, coming to the region, and loving it.
“I had to travel everywhere, then I came to New Mexico,” Hadi . said ABP News Online. “I like it – the weather and the people were so nice. And I chose to stay here for my business.’
Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was assassinated on November 7
Hadi and his brother opened the market in 2008 and Ahmadi worked as a cook, specializing in traditional Afghan dishes and often catering for groups at the nearby university.
Hadi said he left Ahmadi in the shop to finish cooking, and suspects his brother had started smoking a cigarette when he was shot at around 6 p.m.
“I left at five o’clock and he was in the back,” Hadi said.
“When I went home, someone called me and said, ‘Sharief, what’s going on in your shop?’ When I came back, the police were everywhere.’
Hadi said in January that he was stunned by the unsolved murder.
“I have nothing to tell you,” he said. ‘He is my brother. I loved him, he loved me.’
Eight months later, a second Muslim man was murdered: 41-year-old Aftab Hussein, who moved to New Mexico in 2016.
Hussein worked as a busser for a local cafe and rented a second floor apartment near the Mesa Verde Community Center with two roommates and told them he was recently engaged to a woman back home in Pakistan.
Aftab Hussein, 41, busser at a local restaurant, was murdered on July 28
He was in the process of getting his passport and other travel documents together so he could go to Pakistan to get married, his friend Iftikhar told Amirjan. The Albuquerque Journal.
‘He was very happy. He said, ‘I will go to Pakistan and get married and bring my wife here’ and he said, ‘I will make my life’, you know,” Amirjan said.
‘He said, ‘I will buy a house later and have children.’
Hussein was shot dead in the parking lot of the complex where he lived in the evening of July 26.
Meanwhile, his housemates have left in fear, while Hussein’s brother has flown in from the United Kingdom.
The third murder was on Monday, when noted local community organizer and city planner Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was murdered outside his home.
Born in Pakistan, he moved to the United States in 2017 to earn a master’s degree in community and regional planning from the University of New Mexico and was president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association from 2019 to 2020.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot dead outside his home while his brother cooked inside on Monday
He worked with Representative Melanie Stansbury’s campaign for Congress, then landed a job as director of land use and land use for the city of Española, 145 miles north of Albuquerque.
Hussein had been commuting for the past year, but was due to move to Española soon.
His older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, a former prosecutor who moved to the US in 2014 to continue studying law, stayed with his sibling and brought his two young children with him.
Imtiaz Hussain told The Albuquerque Journal that Afzaal Hussain stepped out around 9 p.m., probably to call friends or family in Pakistan while he was cooking dinner.
Neighbors reported seeing a car pull up next to his brother as someone inside opened fire and fired once, then four to six more times.
“My brother, he was such a decent, lively young man, an unmarried person who was involved in the community and always helped everyone,” Imtiaz Hussain said.
‘Then what’s the motive? Why did they shoot him? If he gets shot, how are we safe?
‘I want a proactive, rigorous investigation, detailed and fast processes, so that those people who want to take someone else’s life for nothing.
“Maybe they stole his phone, I don’t know, whatever.
“But this is life and many lives are associated with him.”
Jordan Yutzy, Española’s city manager, said the team was in shock.
“He will be truly missed by the city,” Yutzy said.
“He was very smart, very dedicated and really cared about the community as a whole. He will be big shoes for the city to fill.”
Prayers will be held for Hussein and Hussain on Friday at the Islamic Center of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico said it was “deeply saddened to hear of the tragic and sudden loss of a dear alumni” who was “a prominent student leader and a vibrant human being.”
“Muhammad was an inspiring leader and a very special Lobo who touched so many lives,” said UNM President Garnett Stokes. “It was a privilege to know him and work with him.”
Stansbury tweeted: “As we mourn the unthinkable loss of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, police have released new information that his shooting may be linked to the deaths of Mohammad Admadi and Aftab Hussein in our community.
“We are working closely with federal, state and local partners to protect our Muslim, immigrant and Middle Eastern communities and bring those responsible to justice. Our communities do not tolerate any form of hatred.”
New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich said: “Mohammed Afzaal Hussain was a pillar of support in the UNM community and an incredible force for good.
“I am very concerned about reports from law enforcement that his murder may be related to two other murders of Muslim men in Albuquerque. Racist, hate-fuelled violence has no place in New Mexico.”
Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque, said the city “will continue to support our Muslim neighbors.”
“While we don’t have all the answers yet, we do know that violence against members of our community based on race or religion will not be tolerated in Albuquerque,” he said in a statement.
On Friday, more than 1,000 people attended a joint funeral for Hussein and Hussain.
Imam Mahmoud Eldenawi spoke of the shock of the community, 6Park News reported.
“All of us, not just Muslims, all other communities, were shocked and saddened by this kind of death of innocent people, they did nothing,” Eldenawi said.
“But this bad guy who committed this crime, he has no religion at all, he has no sympathy, passion, mercy at all.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering a $5,000 reward for information, and the Anti-Defamation League is pushing for a prompt investigation.
“It is appalling that someone should be targeted just for who they are, and we express our deep concern and support for the Muslim community in New Mexico,” said Regional Director Scott Levin.
“We thank members of law enforcement for investigating and taking the matter seriously, and strongly encourage prosecutors to report hate crimes if evidence shows that the murders were committed because of the victims’ Muslim identities.”