Police in Albuquerque are investigating a possible serial killer, after three Muslim men were murdered within five miles of each other in the last nine months.
The trio were all ambushed alone outside their home or work place, and killed by a gunman.
They did not know each other, although the two most recent victims attended the same mosque.
After the third killing, on Monday, Albuquerque police and the FBI held a news conference Thursday in front of the Islamic Center of New Mexico to announce investigators have found a ‘strong possibility’ the same attacker could have carried out all three murders.
‘While we won’t go into why we think there’s a connection, there’s one strong commonality in all of our victims — their race and religion,’ said Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock.
He appealed for the public’s help in tracking down the killer.
A funeral was held on Friday in Albuquerque for the two most recent victims: Aftab Hussein, 41, and 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, both from Pakistan
Altaf Hussein cries over the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein at Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque on Friday
Altaf Hussain sprinkles dirt over the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein, who was murdered on July 28 in the parking lot of his apartment complex
‘My guess is someone out there either directly knows who did this and they can provide that information to police or they’ve noticed some behavior changes in someone around them that they think could possibly do this,’ Hartsock said.
‘Two of these murders have happened in (a) week. Whoever’s doing them, is changing up their lifestyle, their behavior, something is off more than usual.’
Tahir Gauba, a spokesman for the Islamic Center, said Albuquerque’s Muslim community is feeling panicked by the news.
‘We have never felt this much fear in our community,’ Gauba said.
‘I’ve never seen this much fear within my own family.’
The first murder was carried out on the evening of November 7.
Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was found outside the cafe he ran with his brother Sharief A. Hadi – Ariana Halal Market & Cafe.
The Afghan-born brothers emigrated to the United States with their father in the early 1980s: first living in Pennsylvania, then moving to New Mexico after Hadi, making a living selling gemstones, came across the region and loved it.
‘I had to travel all over, then I got to New Mexico,’ Hadi told ABP News Online. ‘I like it – the weather and the people were so nice. And I chose to stay here because of my business.’
Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was killed on November 7
Hadi and his brother opened the market in 2008, with Ahmadi working as a cook, specializing in traditional Afghan dishes and often catering for groups at the nearby university.
Hadi said he left Ahmadi at the shop to finish cooking, and suspects his brother had gone out to smoke a cigarette when he was shot around 6pm.
‘I left at 5 o’clock and he had laid down in the back,’ Hadi said.
‘When I went home someone called me and said ‘Sharief what’s going on at your store?’ When I came back the police were all over.’
Hadi in January said he was baffled by the unsolved murder.
‘I don’t have anything to tell you,’ he said. ‘He is my brother. I loved him, he loved me.’
Eight months later, a second Muslim man was murdered: 41-year-old Aftab Hussein, who moved to New Mexico in 2016.
Working as a busser for a local cafe, Hussein rented a second-story apartment near the Mesa Verde Community Center with two roommates and told them he had recently got engaged to a woman back home in Pakistan.
Aftab Hussein, 41, a busser at a local restaurant, was murdered on July 28
He was working to get his passport and other travel documents together so he could go to Pakistan and get married, his friend Iftikhar Amirjan told The Albuquerque Journal.
‘He was very happy. He said ‘I’ll go to Pakistan and get married and bring my wife here’ and he said ‘I’ll make my life,’ you know,’ Amirjan said.
‘He said ‘I’ll buy a house later on and have children.”
Hussein was shot in the evening of July 26 in the parking lot of the complex where he lived.
His roommates, frightened, have since moved out, while Hussein’s brother has flown in from the United Kingdom.
The third killing was on Monday, when well-known local community organizer and city planner Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was murdered outside his home.
Born in Pakistan, he moved to the United States in 2017 to get a master’s degree in community and regional planning at the University of New Mexico and served as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association from 2019 to 2020.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot dead outside his home while his brother cooked dinner inside on Monday
He worked with Representative Melanie Stansbury’s campaign for Congress and then got a job as the planning and land use director for the city of Española, 90 miles north of Albuquerque.
Hussein had been commuting for the past year but was shortly to move to Española.
His older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, a former prosecutor who moved to the U.S. in 2014 to continue studying law, had been staying with his sibling, and brought his two young children with him.
Imtiaz Hussain told The Albuquerque Journal that Afzaal Hussain stepped outside around 9pm, likely to call friends or family in Pakistan, while he cooked dinner.
Neighbors reported seeing a car pull up alongside his brother as someone inside opened fire, shooting once and then four to six more times.
‘My brother — he was such a decent, lively young man, an unmarried person involved with the community, all the time helping everyone,’ Imtiaz Hussain said.
‘So what is the motive. Why did they shoot him? If he’s shot, how are we safe?
‘I want a proactive, rigorous investigation, detailed and speedy trials so that those people who want to take life for another person for nothing.
‘Maybe they were stealing his phone, I don’t know, whatever.
‘But this is life and many lives are connected to him.’
Jordan Yutzy, the Española city manager, said the team was in shock.
‘He is going to be truly missed by the city,’ Yutzy said.
‘He was very smart, very dedicated, and really cared about the community as a whole. His will be very big shoes for the city to fill.’
Prayers are held for Hussein and Hussain on Friday in the Islamic Center of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico said it was ‘deeply saddened to hear about the tragic and sudden loss of a cherished alumni’ who ‘was a prominent student leader and vibrant human being.’
‘Muhammad was an inspiring leader and a really special Lobo who touched so many lives,’ UNM President Garnett Stokes said. ‘It was my privilege to know and work with him.’
Stansbury tweeted: ‘As we grieve the unthinkable loss of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, law enforcement has released new information that his shooting may be linked with the deaths of Mohammad Admadi and Aftab Hussein in our community.
‘We are working closely with federal, state, and local partners to protect our Muslim, immigrant, and Middle Eastern communities and bring those responsible to justice. Our communities will not tolerate hate in any form.’
Martin Heinrich, senator for New Mexico, said: ‘Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was a pillar in the UNM community and an incredible force for good.
‘I’m very concerned by law enforcement reports that his murder may be linked to two other murders of Muslim men in Albuquerque. Racist, hate-fueled violence has no place in New Mexico.’
Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque, said the city will continue to ‘stand by our Muslim neighbors’.
‘While we do not have all the answers yet, what we do know is that violence against members of our community based on race or religion will not be tolerated in Albuquerque,’ he said in a statement.
On Friday, more than 1,000 people attended a joint funeral for Hussein and Hussain.
Imam Mahmoud Eldenawi spoke of the community’s shock, 6Park News reported.
‘All of us, not just Muslims, all other communities, were shocked and saddened by this kind of death of innocent people, they did nothing,’ Eldenawi said.
‘But this evil guy who committed this crime, he doesn’t have any kind of religion, he doesn’t have any kind of sympathy, passion, mercy at all.’
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering a $5,000 reward for information, and the Anti-Defamation League is urging a swift investigation.
‘It is abhorrent for someone to be targeted simply for who they are, and we express our deep concern and support for the Muslim community in New Mexico,’ said Regional Director Scott Levin.
‘We thank members of law enforcement for investigating and taking the matter seriously, and strongly encourage prosecutors to pursue hate crime charges if evidence shows the killings were committed because of the Muslim identity of the victims.’