Suspect detained in Albuquerque killings

By Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 1:18 a.m. ET, August 10, 2022
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8:37 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

Police still searching for motive in killing of Muslim men in Albuquerque

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

Tips from the community helped investigators track down and arrest Muhammad Syed, 51, in connection to the deaths of Muslim men, Albuquerque, New Mexico, police said in a news conference on Tuesday

Police addressed rumors that Shia and Sunni tensions may have led to Syed’s actions, and said while they are aware of that narrative, the motive is still being “explored” by investigators. 

“We have heard those things, but we’re not sure if that’s the only motivation,” Kyle Hartsock, Albuquerque police deputy commander, said.  

As detectives prepared to search Syed’s home in southeast Albuquerque on Monday, he drove away from the residence in the Volkswagen Jetta that detectives believe was used in at least one of the murders, police said in a news release.

Detectives detained Syed after pulling him over in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, nearly 120 miles from Albuquerque, and then executed a search warrant at his home. They discovered additional evidence that further tied Syed to the murders, according to the release.

Hartsock said investigators have recovered two weapons that may have been used in the killings.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), issued a statement about the arrest on Tuesday, in which the organization “strongly condemned the anti-Shia hatred that may have motivated the killings.”

“Although we are waiting to learn more about these crimes, we are disturbed by early indications that the alleged killer may have been targeting particular members of the Shia community. If this is true, it is completely unacceptable, and we encourage law enforcement to file any appropriate hate crime charges against the suspect,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.

Syed immigrated to the US from Afghanistan, according to Hartsock. The official said that the investigation remains active.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has been vocal on social media about the attacks and said she’s “relieved” that the primary suspect is in custody. 

“I'm relieved that a primary suspect in the killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque is in custody,” Lujan Grisham said in a tweet. “My deepest gratitude goes out to the law enforcement officers involved for their tireless work, and my heart goes out to the victims, their loved ones, and all those in the community.”

1:04 a.m. ET, August 10, 2022

Religious leaders urge unity and solidarity following arrest of suspect in killings of Muslim men

From CNN’s Jarrod Wardwell

Sunni and Shia leaders gathered Tuesday night to call for unity and solidarity after a man was detained hours earlier in connection to the killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a non-profit advocacy organization for Muslim civil liberties, hosted a news conference in Washington, DC, with leaders from Sunni and Shiite backgrounds to pledge unity in light of rumors that tensions between the two branches of Islam may have led to the crimes. 

Albuquerque police detained and charged Muhammad Syed, 51, as the “primary suspect” in the killings. Police are exploring Sunni-Shia divisions as a potential motive.

Nihad Awad, the national executive director of CAIR, said people can “breathe a sigh of relief” in light of the arrest. He said the Muslim community should unite and stay strong while praying for the victims of the killings and their families.

“We as a community, regardless of our backgrounds, we are united against hate and violence, against innocent people's lives taken brutally the way they were,” he said at the press conference. “Regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the identity of the victims, we are united by our faith.”

The brother-in-law of 25-year-old Naeem Hussein, one of the victims of the killings, spoke at the news conference and reflected on Hussein’s ability to bring Sunnis and Shia together while dismissing the divide between the two groups. He encouraged people of Muslim faith to show compassion to one another in the wake of the killings, living by his relative’s outlook. 

“Always, his saying was ‘We’re all brothers,’” he said.

“Let’s be brothers,” he said. “Let’s go through this turmoil together.”

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, a member of CAIR’s national board and a local faith leader, stressed that the killings have no place in the Muslim faith, and CAIR will continue to strive to protect religious freedom in the United States.

“As people of faith we stand together to send a simple, clear and indisputable reverence – and that is that violence and hate knows no religion, that we must as a community redouble our efforts to come together, to stay together, to establish what is good and prohibit what is evil," he said.

8:27 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

Man charged with homicide in killings of 2 Muslim men in Albuquerque, police say 

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar

Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have arrested a 51-year-old man in connection to the recent killings of two Muslim men in the city. Police said Muhammad Syed is considered the “primary suspect” in the deaths. 

“As detectives prepared to search Syed’s home in Southeast Albuquerque on Monday, Syed drove from the residence in the Volkswagen Jetta that detectives believe was used in at least one of the murders,” police said in a news release. 

Detectives searched Syed’s home where they found additional evidence that they believe ties him to the killings, police said. This includes evidence that police said shows that Syed knew the victims “to some extent” and interpersonal conflict may have led to the shootings. 

Syed has been arrested on two homicide charges, in connection to the July 26 death of Aftab Hussein and the Aug. 1 death of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. 

“Detectives connected those homicides using bullet casings found at the scenes,” the release said. “The gun used in those shootings was discovered during the overnight search of his home.”   

Police are working with the district attorney on potential charges for the other two homicides, the Aug. 5 killing of Naeem Hussain and the Nov. 7, 2021 killing of Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi.

6:10 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

Albuquerque police chief thanks Muslim community for its help in investigation

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina speaks during a press conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on August 9.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina speaks during a press conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on August 9. (KOAT)

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina thanked the Muslim community for its trust in the department and its support in passing along information that eventually led to the detainment of a suspect in the killing of two Muslim men.

Police have been investigating the deaths of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The three most recent killings happened within the span of two weeks, putting the city on edge as police probed for potential links between the attacks.

Medina, speaking at a news conference on Tuesday to give an update on the investigation, said people in the Muslim community brought forward key information.

Police previously released information on a car they believed was involved in the killings.

He said someone called and said they saw the vehicle which was what allowed police to make an arrest in the case.

“You put faith in us, you trusted us," Medina said, speaking directly to the Muslim community in Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller also thanked the Muslim community on Tuesday, saying, “They never gave up on our police department and they never gave up on the city where they live."

“There is no way we could have put these pieces together without them," Keller said at the news conference.

Some background: The killings rattled people in the area. The president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico previously told CNN people were "incredibly terrified" and "panicked," with some afraid to even leave their homes.

6:20 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

NOW: Albuquerque officials give update on investigation into killing of 4 Muslim men

From CNN's Nouran Salahieh and Amir Vera

Officials are giving an update on the investigation into the killing of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In a tweet earlier Tuesday, police announced they had detained a "primary suspect" after authorities located the vehicle believed to have been involved in the attacks.

“We tracked down the vehicle believed to be involved in a recent murder of a Muslim man in Albuquerque,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said on Twitter. “The driver was detained and he is our primary suspect for the murders.

Medina is expected to speak at the news conference.

About the victims: While police have not provided details on exactly how the killings unfolded, they have said three of the victims — Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27; Aftab Hussein, 41, and Mohammad Ahmadi, 62 — were "ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed."

Then, after community members marked a somber Friday prayer followed by a funeral for two of the victims, a fourth man — Naeem Hussain, 25 — was found dead, hours after attending the service. He became the third Muslim man killed in the city within two weeks and the fourth since November.

Read more here.

6:20 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

Here's what we know about the killings of 4 Muslim men in Albuquerque

From CNN's Nouran Salahieh and Amir Vera

The three most recent killings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, claimed the lives of men from Pakistan, and the spate of shootings directed investigators’ attention to an unsolved killing of an Afghan man reported in 2021.

The latest killing happened just before midnight on Aug. 5 in the area of Truman Street and Grand Avenue. Police responded to reports of a shooting and found Naeem Hussain dead from a gunshot wound.

He had attended the funeral of two other victims that same day and expressed concern about the shootings, according to a spokesperson with a mosque in Albuquerque.

On Aug. 1, officers found Muhammad Afzaal Hussain on a sidewalk around 9:19 p.m. local time in the area of Cornell Street and Lead Avenue. He had been shot and died as a result of his wounds, police said.

On July 26, officers found Aftab Hussein with apparent gunshot wounds in the 400 block of Rhode Island at 10:30 p.m. local time. He also died as a result of his wounds, according to police.

The Aug. 1 and July 26 shootings got police looking into whether they may be connected to another killing that happened Nov. 7. That day, officers found an Afghan man, Mohammad Ahmadi, with a gunshot wound in the parking lot behind the business he ran with his brother.

“Our homicide detectives and our investigators currently believe there is a strong possibility that the same individual committed all three of these crimes,” Hartsock said last week, referring to the shootings of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, Aftab Hussein and Mohammad Ahmadi. “While we won’t go into why we think that, there’s one strong commonality in all of our victims – their race and religion."

Read more here.

5:06 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

"Incredibly terrified": Killing of 4 Muslim men in Albuquerque rattles community

From CNN's Ashley Killough, Nouran Salahieh, Holly Yan and Ed Lavandera

Albuquerque Police patrol the parking lot at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque on August 7.
Albuquerque Police patrol the parking lot at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque on August 7. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal/Zuma)

Everyday life is now permeated by fear after four Muslim men were gunned down in Albuquerque, a mosque leader said.

"Incredibly terrified. Panicked. Some people want to move from the state until this thing is over. Some people have moved from the state," said Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.

"Businesses are closing ... early. Students won't leave their homes," he said.

"It's affecting people from coming over to the mosque to conduct their services, their prayers. So, in every aspect of daily life that we're used to or accustomed to following, it's impacted it in every way possible," Assed said.

While police have not called the four killings hate crimes, "in my opinion, clearly it is hate-driven," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Monday.

Albuquerque is not just "in a place of grieving right now, but also at a place of outrage," Keller said. But the community is determined to help.

"We have marshaled every resource to have now police presence at all our mosques during prayer time," the mayor said. "We are even doing meal deliveries for families that are afraid to leave their house to get food."

The Islamic Center of New Mexico is painfully familiar with violence against Muslims in the community.

An arsonist started a fire on the center's property in November, the city of Albuquerque's website said. A month later, police arrested someone on suspicion of arson and negligent arson. But now the center, where about 700 to 800 Muslims gather on Fridays, is warning residents to be cautious.

"We urge everyone to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings including making sure that you are not being followed home and avoid walking alone at night," the Islamic Center of New Mexico posted on Facebook. "This is especially true for our members living in the southeast part of the city where these killings have taken place."

Read more here.

5:16 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

Suspect detained in killings of 4 Muslim men, police chief says

From CNN’s Jon Passantino, Ed Lavandera and Ashley Killough

The “primary suspect” in the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque has been detained after authorities located the vehicle believed to have been involved in the attacks, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.

“We tracked down the vehicle believed to be involved in a recent murder of a Muslim man in Albuquerque,” he wrote. “The driver was detained and he is our primary suspect for the murders. We will update the media later this afternoon.”

On Tuesday morning, CNN was inside an Albuquerque home that was searched late Monday night. Community leaders who are in touch with law enforcement say the home is connected to the alleged suspect.

Members of the family who live in the home told CNN their father left for Texas on Monday night, shortly before their home was raided. Community leaders who are in touch with law enforcement also say the father was detained while traveling to Texas.

It was not immediately clear if police are considering the father of the primary suspect.

CNN is not identifying this family, but family members deny that those who've been detained have any involvement in the shootings. 

Albuquerque Police, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office and Albuquerque mayor’s office did not respond to CNN requests for comment.

About the victims: The victims are Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, Aftab Hussein, 41, and Naeem Hussain, 25. They were all Muslim and of South Asian descent, according to Albuquerque police.

4:32 p.m. ET, August 9, 2022

A refugee and a city planner were among the Muslim victims killed in Albuquerque

From CNN's Nouran Salahieh

From left, Mohammad Ahmadi, Naeem Hussain, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein
From left, Mohammad Ahmadi, Naeem Hussain, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein (Albuquerque Police Department/The Islamic Center of New Mexico/City of Española)

The ambush-style shootings of three Muslim men and the recent killing of a fourth in Albuquerque have alarmed the city's Muslim community and triggered warnings for mosque-goers as police investigate how the shootings may be linked.

The killings of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, Aftab Hussein, 41, and Naeem Hussain, 25, all have one commonality: the victims were all Muslim and of South Asian descent, according to Albuquerque police.

Naeem Hussain migrated as a refugee from Pakistan in 2016 — fleeing persecution as a Shia Muslim — and had just become a US citizen last month, according to his brother-in-law, Ehsan Shahalami.

He opened his own trucking business this year and was described as being a kind, generous and hardworking person.

The day he was killed, he had attended a funeral for the two recent victims and expressed fear about the shootings, according to a spokesman with a mosque in Albuquerque.

Muhammad Afzaal 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 degrees in community and regional planning from the University of New Mexico, according to a news release from the mayor.

"Muhammad was soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh," Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release last Wednesday. "He was well-respected and well-liked by his coworkers and members of the community."

Few details have been released about the two other victims. Police said Mohammad Ahmadi was a Muslim man from Afghanistan and Aftab Hussein was a Muslim man from Pakistan.

CNN's Claudia Dominguez and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.