The suspect in custody for brutally killing a Bangladeshi-origin imam and his associate was on Tuesday identified as a 35-year-old Hispanic man and charged with intentionally carrying out the double murders near a New York mosque that has shocked the Muslim community.
Oscar Morel from Brooklyn was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon by New York police, which did not give any motive for the Saturday killing in the borough of Queens. The charges came hours after hundreds of mourners attended the funeral service for the 55-year-old mosque leader Maulana Alauddin Akonjee, who was respected locally, and his 65-year-old associate Thara Uddin.
The duo, who were walking home dressed in Islamic attire after afternoon Zuhr prayers at Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in the Ozone Park neighbourhood, were approached from behind by a male with medium complexion wearing a dark polo shirt and shorts who shot them multiple times in the head from point-blank range.
Video of the horrific execution-style killing had also shown the brazen crime to be a planned murder following which the killer fled.
Morel was originally arrested Sunday night on charges related to a hit-and-run accident, some five kilometres from the spot of the murders, and the assault of a police officer, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told reporters. The murder charges were added later after police recovered a revolver and clothing from his house that matched what the shooter wore in a video of the attack, reports said.
“We believe, because of the evidence we’ve acquired thus far, that we strongly believe this is the individual,” Boyce said.
Police said witnesses saw his black Chevy TrailBlazer flee the scene of the shooting. Muslim leaders chanted “We want justice” and sought a stepped up security including installation of CCTV cameras outside mosques in the area following the incident, that has sent a shockwave among the Bangladeshi community in the neighbourhood and prompted concerns over growing Islamophobia.
The leaders slammed “xenophobic statements” made against the community in speeches by “politicians and candidates seeking the highest office in the land”, in a clear reference to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, among those who paid respects to the slain duo, promised deployment of more police personnel to protect mosques and the Muslim community as he underlined the entire city stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those in mourning.
Authorities had earlier said hate crime was being probed as a possible motive – as demanded by Muslim elders, who have rejected a report that said the killer may have been settling a score in a feud between Muslims and Hispanics.
The New York chapter of Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organisation Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had offered a USD 10,000 reward for any information that could lead to an arrest or conviction in the incident.