go to content

Police Questioning Suspect In Fatal Shooting Of Imam And Associate Near New York City Mosque

The two men, including a 55-year-old imam, were leaving a mosque in Queens after their daily prayers when they were shot in the head, police told BuzzFeed News.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Police detained a suspect in the fatal shooting of an imam and his companion in broad daylight Saturday in the New York City borough of Queens, NBC New York reported.

The suspect was taken into custody Sunday night and was being questioned by police. As of Monday morning, the identity of the suspect had not been released and no charges had been filed.

Maulama Akonjee, the 55-year-old imam of the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque, and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were fatally shot in the back of the head, the New York Police Department said.

The men were gunned down shortly before 2 p.m. ET at Liberty Avenue and 79th Street in the Ozone Park neighborhood, some two blocks away from the mosque, a police spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Surveillance footage obtained first by BuzzFeed News shows the moment of the attack. In the video, a man can be seen quickly approaching the two men from behind. The two men then collapse on the street, as the man slowly walks away.

WARNING: Some viewers may find the video disturbing.

video-cdn.buzzfeed.com

Both men were later pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital.

"They were approached from behind by what witnesses and video surveillance shows...[to be] a male with medium complexion dressed in a dark polo shirt and shorts," the NYPD said in a statement.

"Immediately after the victims were shot, the same male was seen fleeing from the scene southbound on 79 Street.

"Witnesses stated they observed the male fleeing with a gun in his hand," police said.

The New York Daily News reported that the suspect got into a vehicle and then struck a cyclist, who got the license plate number. The NYPD was surveilling the suspect when he rammed into a police car — they took him in for questioning after that.

Police later released a sketch of the suspect based on witness accounts.

Anyone with information on the suspect was urged to contact authorities.

Officials also said the motive of the shooting had not been determined.

The two men were wearing traditional Islamic clothing when they were shot, the New York Daily News reported.

"There's nothing in the preliminary investigation to indicate that they were targeted because of their faith," Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner of the NYPD told the Associated Press.

Police sources told NBC that their preliminary investigation indicated a lone gunman may have targeted the two men as part of a robbery.

The New York Times reported Akonjee was carrying $1,000 in cash which was not taken.

In a statement on Sunday, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio said the city was "stung by violence" which "devastated a congregation and unsettled a community."

De Blasio added that while the motive was unknown, Muslim communities were in the "perpetual crosshairs of bigotry."

"It remains critical that we work to bridge the divides that threaten to undermine the greatness of our city and country. Rest assured that our NYPD will bring this killer to justice," the statement read.

Following the attack, angry men gathered before local media amid sweltering New York City heat to proclaim the incident a hate crime.

“That’s not what America is about,” local resident Khairul Islam told the Daily News. “We blame Donald Trump for this ... Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia.”

“We are devastated,” Kobir Chowdhury, president of a second neighborhood mosque, told the Daily News. “We needs to get to the bottom of this. We need to know if they did this just because of our religion.”

David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.

Contact David Mack at david.mack@buzzfeed.com.

Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Salvador Hernandez at salvador.hernandez@buzzfeed.com.

Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2

Contact Talal Ansari at talal.ansari@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.