Anti-Muslim hate crimes? Inter-sect beef? Brother of 1 of 4 slain New Mexico men asks the public to stop guessing.
- Police say the recent killings of four Muslim men in New Mexico are likely linked.
- First there was an assumption they were anti-Muslim hate crimes, now people believe it was a matter of sectarian violence.
Hungry for answers, people around the country almost immediately began jumping to conclusions about why four Muslim men were murdered recently in apparent ambushes in one New Mexico community.
Immediately after Albuquerque police announced a likely link between the killings of four Muslim men who attended the Islamic Center of New Mexico, the public — from the president to the press — speculated the murders were acts of anti-Muslim hate. On Tuesday, when police arrested a Afghani immigrant for two of the killings, the public quickly pivoted to a narrative in which the murders were acts of Sunni on Shia violence.
But Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of one of the victims, rejects that the killings had anything to do with religion and wants the speculation to stop.
"Although we were raised as Sunni, and we pray in Sunni, we didn't carry any identity as Sunni or Shia," Imtiaz Hussain told Insider. "It was an individual act. The person who killed had some extreme animosity against my brother."
Naeem Hussain, 25, Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussain, 41 — all from Pakistan — were killed in ambush shootings in the last two weeks. Police believe that a fourth killing — of Afghanistan-born Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, back in November — is also connected.
APD Chief Harold Medina said at a press conference Tuesday that Muhammad Syed had been charged with killing.
Detectives were about to conduct a search warrant at Syed's home when they saw him driving off in a Volkswagen Jetta. From there, Medina said, detectives were able to locate the guns used in the killings.
Medina said Syed had prior misdemeanor arrests including a domestic violence charge, and the motive or motives for the killings are still under investigation.
Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock said law enforcement officials are trying to gather evidence about whether Syed was involved in the two other murders.
The act of a "crazy person"
In the hours after Syed was arrested, the public narrative shifted from the idea that the murders were acts of anti-Muslim hate to the prospect that they were, in fact, acts of anti-Shiite hate.
People took to social media condemning sectarian hate, scholars on Islamic tensions were quoted in news stories, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement condemning the "Reported Anti-Shia Motivation."
The speculation stemmed from a reports in news outlets, including The Daily Beast, that said Syed, who is Sunni, was upset that his daughter married a Shiite. Insider was not able to independently confirm that is the case.
Shiite Muslims have been historically persecuted in Afghanistan, and the New Mexico killings occurred during the Islamic month of Muharram when communities gather to mourn and commemorate the dead.
But Afzaal Hussain is confident his brother's sect had nothing to do with why he was targeted.
Tensions between the two sects have gotten worse since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. Just last week in Kabul, for example, at least eight people were killed and 18 were injured when explosives went off at a Shiite community mourning gathering, the Business Standard reported.
Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain told Insider he didn't know how Syed identified but that he realized upon seeing his mugshot Tuesday that they spoke a few months ago at the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
Imtiaz Hussain said they only spoke briefly, that Syed told him he spent time in Pakistan as a refugee, and that the two men spoke about being fathers.
He said the narrative that his brother was killed over religion just doesn't make sense.
Afzaal Hussain was Muslim, but not very religious, his brother said, adding he only visited the Islamic Center of New Mexico every few months for special events.
Working as a city planner in Espanola, about an hour an a half north of Albuquerque, Afzaal was more dedicated to a future in politics than his practice of Islam, his brother said.
"It's false. I absolutely reject it," he said, of allegations of sectarian violence. "We have nothing to do with Shia practices. We never participated in Shia orientation."
Aneela Abad, general secretary of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, told Insider she understands the effort to uncover a motive but that assumptions aren't helping the Muslim community in Albuquerque.
"The community is definitely shocked that he is one of the attendees of the Islamic Center," she said, adding that members of the center's mosque are scared that the accused was sitting among them.
The Islamic Center is a "melting pot" with over 30 different ethnicities, and Abad is worried that these assumptions could cause "internal chaos" between the Shiite and Sunni communities.
"This was just a person who had his own personal crazy reason and crazy agenda and did this terrible crime," she said.
Imtiaz Hussain agreed, noting the close-range "brutal" way that his brother was killed.
"At least we are now relaxed and my kids can go outside and feel safe," he said told Insider.
Before the arrest, Imtiaz Hussain was moving his children between the homes of friends and acquaintances to keep them safe.
On Tuesday, he sat them down and told them the suspected killer had been arrested.
- Twitter's former leaders including Parag Agrawal sue Elon Musk for $128 mn
- Apple introduces new MacBook Air laptop with M3 chip
- Mukka Proteins IPO allotment – How to check allotment, GMP, listing date and more
- Know what are the 7 signs and symptoms of high cholesterol in your body
- Tata Motors to demerge biz into two separate listed companies