After ambush-style shootings of three Muslim men and the killing of a fourth on Friday in Albuquerque, the Muslim community was on edge and fearful.
A well-liked city worker who had aspirations of a future in politics and a proud new US citizen were among the victims of a spree of shootings police say may be related.
The killings of Mohammad Ahmadi, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, Aftab Hussein and Naeem Hussain have one obvious commonality though: They were all South Asian Muslims, according to Albuquerque police.
The three most recent killings happened within the span of two weeks, with local and national Muslim groups warning residents to remain vigilant. They also put a spotlight on an unsolved homicide from November 2021.
On Tuesday, police announced they had arrested 51-year-old Muhammad Syed, saying they would be charging him with two of the homicides: the July 26 killing of Aftab Hussein and the August 1 killing of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.
As for the two other killings, police said there is evidence that Syed as the “most likely person of interest or suspect” in those as well, Kyle Hartsock, deputy commander of the city police department’s criminal investigations division said.
According to the criminal complaint, Syed denied any involvement in the killings during an interview with police on Tuesday.
Here’s what we know about the lives lost. CNN will continue to update this story with more details as we learn them:
Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi, 62
Mohammad Ahmadi was shot and killed outside of a business he and his brother ran together in November 2021, according to CNN affiliate KOAT.
Ahmadi was from Afghanistan, police said.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27
Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain had been living with his brother, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, in the same apartment complex for almost five years and had never had any problems.
The brothers came to the US on student visas, studying at the University of New Mexico, and they would often take early morning or late night walks to the university library without any fear for their safety – until now.
On August 1, police got a call about a drive-by shooting near the intersection of Cornell Drive and Garfield Avenue. They found Muhammad Afzaal Hussain with multiple gunshot wounds, according to a criminal complaint obtained from CNN affiliate KOAT.
His face was distorted from gunshot wounds, his brother Imtiaz Hussain said.
“This is not a random killing,” Hussain said. “This is extremely motivated and extreme hatred.”
Afzaal Hussain was loved by everyone and a student leader excited for a future in politics once he gained US citizenship.
“We are in extreme fear,” Imtiaz Hussain said. “Living in this place is very painful.”
Hussain worked on the planning team for the city of Española. He had studied law and human resource management at the University of Punjab in Pakistan before receiving both master’s and bachelor’s degrees in community and regional planning from the University of New Mexico, according to a news release from Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil.
“Muhammad was soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh,” Vigil said in a news release last Wednesday. “He was well-respected and well-liked by his coworkers and members of the community.”
Naeem Hussain, 25
Naeem Hussain, 25, had been a US citizen for less than a month when he was found by Albuquerque police officers just before midnight Friday.
His brother-in-law Ehsan Shahalami identified Hussian to CNN on Sunday and said he had migrated as a refugee from Pakistan in 2016 – fleeing persecution as a Shia Muslim.
“He had a lot of dreams and he accomplished some of them,” Shahalami said. “His others were cut short by this heinous act.”
Hours before his own death, Hussain attended a funeral for two of the recent victims and expressed concern about the shootings, said Tahir Gauba, spokesperson for the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
Hussain worked as a truck driver for several years from Albuquerque, a job he took immense pride in, according to Shahalami.
“He was not even a citizen at the time but he would say, ‘This is our country, these people need us more than any other time,’ so he drove extra shifts to keep things rolling,” Shahalami said.
After becoming a US citizen, Hussain opened his own trucking business, had plans to bring over his wife from Pakistan and was interested in buying property in Virginia, according to Shahalami.
“He was the most generous, kind, giving, patient, and down-to-earth person that I could ever meet,” he said. “He was very hard working.”
Hussain wasn’t just working to support himself – he would share his earnings with family back home, Shahalami said.
After the funerals Friday, Gauba said, Hussain attended a lunch at the mosque and approached him asking if he had more information on the shootings.
“We (The Islamic Center of New Mexico) thought after burial of these two young men (on Friday), we would have closure and move on and let law enforcement investigate,” Gauba said. “Waking up Saturday morning to his (Naeem Hussain) death, the whole community just feels helpless. There’s a lot of fear.”
About 700 to 800 Muslims on Fridays attend the Islamic Center of New Mexico, the largest mosque in Albuquerque founded in the mid-1970s, according to Gauba.
Aftab Hussein, 41
Aftab Hussein was found with multiple gunshot wounds, lying next to a car on Rhode Island Street on July 26.
Detectives learned that a gunman had waited behind a bush near the driveway where the victim usually parks his vehicle and then fired through the bush multiple times when Hussein got out of his vehicle, according to the complaint.
He was a Muslim man from Pakistan, police said.
CNN’s Nouran Salahieh contributed to this report.