UPDATE ― Tuesday, 8:37 p.m.: A man from Brooklyn was arrested and charged in the deaths of an imam and his associate. Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon. Investigators claim to have found the gun used in the murders hidden in the wall of the suspect’s apartment.
NEW YORK ― An imam and a member of his congregation were shot dead on Saturday when a lone gunman opened fire as the two were leaving prayer services, according to multiple reports.
Witnesses heard several shots fired near the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Queens at about 1:50 p.m., according to the New York Daily News. The two men were found lying in a pool of blood and witnesses said they’d both been shot in the head.
The 55-year-old imam, Maulama Akonjee, and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were both pronounced dead later Saturday, The Associated Press reported.
Police said the lone gunman wasn’t captured and have not established a motive for the shooting, CBS 2 reported.
Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, told The Huffington Post the Muslim community is in shock.
“I’m scared,” Sarsour said. “When you hear these kind of things happening in your community, with the climate we live in, that’s the first thing that comes to mind: You’re afraid. It happened to the leader of the mosque, while he was in his religious garb.”
Several Muslim men reportedly gathered at the scene on Saturday afternoon, telling journalists that they suspected a hate crime.
“For no reason,” Kobri Chowdhury, president of another neighborhood mosque, told the Daily News. “[The imam] had finished his prayers ... Somebody else with him. Just a pure, blind, hate crime.”
Sarsour said the killer’s motivation doesn’t matter ― the fear is still there.
“Even if it turns out it’s not a hate crime, these people are still living on edge,” she said. “When you’re from a poor, immigrant community and English is not your first language, I can see how their fear is exacerbated. People are in shock.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.