Home New mexico united In New Mexico, Muslims reject sectarian label for murders

In New Mexico, Muslims reject sectarian label for murders


Two people embrace during an anti-Shia hate unity event following the killing of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. August 12, 2022. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm/File Photo

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Aug 17 (Reuters) – National Muslim groups have linked the killing of four Muslim men in New Mexico over the past year to bigotry, but Muslims who knew the victims and the alleged shooter say revenge and feuds personal are possible reasons.

Police last week arrested Afghan refugee Muhammad Syed, 51, as the prime suspect in the shooting of four Muslim men in New Mexico’s largest city, Albuquerque. Syed denied any involvement.

Detectives said an “interpersonal conflict” may have led to the shooting of men of Afghan or Pakistani origin.

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A judge on Wednesday ordered Syed to remain in custody pending trial based on charges of murdering two of the men and his history of fleeing law enforcement. His lawyer had asked for bail, arguing that Syed complied with release requirements in 2018 and 2019 after he was arrested for assaulting family members.

The Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) was among Muslim advocacy groups that condemned the killings as possible “sectarian hatred”. Three of the victims were members of the minority Shia Muslim sect. Syed is a Sunni Muslim, the majority sect.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the killings were clearly anti-Shia. The Shia Racial Justice Coalition “condemned the heinous targeted killing of Shias”.

Shiite-Sunni tension is heightened in the Middle East and South Asia, including in Afghanistan where Shiites are frequently attacked by Sunni militants. Read more

However, local Muslim leaders in New Mexico said it was inaccurate to label the killings as sectarian and feared the label would hurt relations between Shiites and Sunnis who pray together at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, the main Albuquerque Mosque. The United States has not experienced significant Shia-Sunni tensions.

“The simplicity of saying this is a Sunni-Shia hate crime is so reckless, said Samia Assed, a Palestinian-American human rights activist who organized an interfaith vigil for the victims. .

Mazin Kadhim was Syed’s caseworker for refugee resettlement when he arrived in Albuquerque about six years ago. When Syed’s daughter Lubna Syed married Iftikhar Amir, a Shia, against her will in 2018, Syed’s traditional male authority was challenged and he was humiliated, Kadhim said.

Syed has been charged with the July 26 murder of Amir’s friend Aftab Hussein, 41, a cafe manager and recent immigrant.

Kadhim said Syed harbors hatred towards Shia, but believes Hussein’s death was revenge for his daughter and son-in-law’s defiance.

“It wasn’t Sunni or Shia, it was extremism,” said Kadhim, a Shia who helped organize a Muslim unity march on Friday.

Lubna Syed declined to comment.

Afghan-American business owner Mula Akbar said Syed, a truck driver, treated women like ‘property’, rarely worked and tried to illegally exchange digital food stamps for cash in stores, including his own.

The food stamp program led to a dispute with supermarket owner Muhammad Ahmadi, 62, Akbar said. Ahmadi was shot on November 7, 2021, in a police killing linked to the other three deaths in July and August this year.

Syed’s son, Shaheen, 21, was arrested last week on firearms charges after he provided a false address when he bought a gun. At a Monday bail hearing for Shaheen, federal prosecutors linked young Syed to the Aug. 5 murder of Naeem Hussain, 25, a truck company owner. Shaheen Syed’s lawyer called the allegations “speculative”. Read more

Imtiaz Hussain, a relative of one victim, does not believe sectarian hatred played a role in the August 1 murder of his brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, a Sunni planning director. He rejects allegations that he was mistaken for a Shia. Syed was charged with the murder.

Imtiaz Hussain, a 41-year-old Pakistani lawyer, said he met Syed a few times at Albuquerque’s main mosque. Once, Imtiaz Hussain said he and his brother told Syed about Syed’s time as a refugee in Quetta, Pakistan after leaving Afghanistan.

“He must have observed us praying the same way as all other Sunnis,” said Imtiaz Hussain, who believes his brother was shot by more than one person.

Police are working with prosecutors on charges for the deaths of Naeem Hussain and Ahmadi.

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Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Donna Bryson, Gerry Doyle, Josie Kao and Aurora Ellis

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