The victims visited the same mosque and were targeted in a similar fashion – an ambush that went straight for the kill, initial reports suggest.
With the latest killing of a Muslim man reported in the New Mexican city of Albuquerque on Friday, the hunt for the killer is on as the police investigate the fourth such slaying involving Muslim men as victims in the last nine months.
Characterised as "targetted killings of Muslim residents", the latest victim in the string of murders have been identified as Naeem Hussain, a 27-year-old resident who originally hailed from Pakistan. Hussain had gone to attend the funerals of the two previous victims. After funeral prayers, he visited a local mosque for a post-service meal, according to Tahir Gauba, director of public affairs at the Islamic Center.
Later, his body was found in the parking space of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, a refugee support group. Like the other three men who were murdered in a similar fashion, Hussain was among “regulars” at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Gauba said. All four victims attended the same mosque.
The victims may have been killed possibly by the same person or persons, according to the state’s police department.
Before Hussain's killing, the other two murders happened in the last two weeks. The police have also taken a keen interest in a year-old case, a similar killing that occurred in November last year. They are searching for clues to see if all the four murders are linked to each other. The city’s detectives are “determined there is a connection” between all the four killings, but the police are yet to make such a conclusion.
In the November murder, the victim has been identified as Mohammed Ahmadi, a 62-year-old Afghan-American who ran a business with his brother in New Mexico. He was killed outside a halal supermarket.
The second victim was identified as a 41-year-old Aftab Hussein, a member of the city’s large Afghan community. He was shot dead on July 26.
Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old planning director for the city of Espanola, was killed outside his apartment complex on August 1. He had immigrated to the US from Pakistan.
While all three have the same surname, they are not related to each other.
President Joe Biden condemned the murders and described them as hate crimes.
"I am angered and saddened by the horrific killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque. These hateful attacks have no place in America,” Biden tweeted, expressing his administration’s support to the US Muslim community.
"I am incredibly angry about the situation. Every New Mexican should stand up and be against this kind of hatred. It has no place in this city and it has no place in our state," said New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.
While the police have not officially labelled crimes against Muslim community members as a hate crime, there are some indications that attacks have a similar pattern. All four men were mosque-goers who often visited the Islamic Center of New Mexico. They were shot dead in a similar fashion – in an ambush with "no warning", according to the Associated Press.
Who were the victims?
The four victims had earned the reputation of being hard-working men from South Asia who had immigrated to the US with high hopes for a better, dignified life.
The 27-year-old Hussain was known as “a brilliant public servant”, who worked hard to improve “conditions and inclusivity for disadvantaged minorities", according to John Ramon Vigil, the mayor of Espanola, where the victim worked in the planning team.
"Muhammad was soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh. He was well-respected and well-liked by his coworkers and members of the community," Vigil added.
Hussain also worked for the campaign of US Congresswoman Melania Stansbury, a Democrat, who represents New Mexico. She described him as “a kind, funny, brilliant, amazing young man from Pakistan who came to the United States to pursue his career and his life’s dream and to study at the University of New Mexico.”
Hussain was educated at the University of Punjab in Pakistan, receiving degrees on law and human resource management. In the US, he enrolled at the University of New Mexico, receiving his master’s and bachelor's degrees in community and regional planning there. Like his workplace, his university also praised Hussain as "a brilliant, respected student leader".
Naeem Hussain, another Pakistani-origin victim, also came to the US to live the American dream, taking the oath of citizenship just a month ago. But a “genuine, pure-hearted human being passed away, was killed in this brutal manner with all his dreams,” said his brother-in-law Ehsan Shahalami, reacting to the death of Hussain.
After working hard, Hussain, a delivery man, bought his own truck and planned for his wife to come from Pakistan soon, according to his brother-in-law. “Everybody that knew him even for an hour is crying because he has touched their life,” he said.
In the US, growing hate crimes have been a matter of great concern for minority groups. Last year, hate crimes increased by 20 percent compared to 2001, the year when 9/11 happened, and the first half of this year saw a 4.7 percent rise, according to Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice at California State University at San Bernardino and the director of the school’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.