Community leaders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, believe the man arrested as the “primary suspect” in the killings of four Muslim men in recent months may have targeted his victims out of sectarian hate.
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said officials had told him that the suspect, Muhammad Syed, 51, targeted the men because he was angry over his daughter marrying a Shiite Muslim man, The New York Times report.
On Tuesday, Albuquerque Police Department officials said during a press conference they were aware of this theory, but hadn’t officially assigned a hate motive to the killings, The Daily Beast reports.
Officials arrested Mr Syed, a native of Afghanistan, after connecting him with a Volkswagen sedan believed to have ties to the four killings, which began in November.
A search of Mr Syed’s home yielded a gun believed to have been used in the killings, according to police.
He’s been charged with the two recent murders that have shocked the city of half a million: the killing of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, who came to the US from Pakistan and worked as planning director for the city of Española, who was found dead in early August from gunshot wounds; and the murder of Naeem Hussain, who was shot to death last Friday in the parking lot of an Albuquerque NGO that offers services to refugees and asylum seekers.
Police said on Tuesday Mr Syed is also the main suspect in two other killings: the 26 July death of an Afghan café worker named Aftab Hussein, 41, and the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot behind the halal market he owned with his brother in November.
“This has been a tough week for our community,” APD Chief Harold Medina said in a statement announcing the charges. “But we all pitched in to solve these crimes and protect a community that felt like it was under attack.”
Mr Syed reportedly knew the victims personally to a certain extent, KOB4 reports.
Local jail records do not indicate whether Mr Syed has legal representation yet, or how he intends to plead.
Muslim leaders celebrated the arrest.
“We welcome the arrest of a suspect in this horrific shooting spree and we commend law enforcement for their efforts at the local, state and federal levels,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations said on Tuesday in a statement. “We hope the news that this violence has been brought to an end will provide the New Mexico Muslim community some sense of relief and security.”
The violence has rocked the city, which prides itself on being welcoming to migrants from Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond.
Hundreds of people have settled in Albuquerque from Afghanistan following the US exit from the country.
“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,” Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, the brother of the slain Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, told The Independent.
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.