New Mexico police detain ‘primary suspect’ in killings of 4 Muslim men

Police announced Tuesday that they have detained a “primary suspect” in the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, N.M., whose deaths sparked fear in Muslim communities nationwide.

Police Chief Harold Medina made the announcement on Twitter, saying that authorities had tracked down a vehicle believed to be involved in one of the slayings in New Mexico’s largest city.

“The driver was detained, and he is our primary suspect for the murders,” the tweet said.

No other information was immediately available. Police planned to provide an update later Tuesday.

Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night, and the three other men died in ambush shootings. 

Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His death came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, who were also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.

The earliest case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan. 

A man smiles, standing between two flags and a sign that says "City of Espanola."
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, seen in this undated photo released by the City of Espanola, was killed on Aug. 1, 2022. (City of Espanola via The Associated Press)

The common elements in the deaths were the victims’ race and religion, officials said, and police were trying to determine if the deaths are linked.

Authorities on Monday sought help searching for a vehicle that appeared to be the one discovered Tuesday.

Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim community leader in New York, said that a female friend who lives in Michigan and wears the hijab head covering shared with her over the weekend just how rattled she was. “She’s like, ‘This is so terrifying. I’m so scared. I travel alone,’ ” Almontaser said.

Community shocked, afraid

Aneela Abad, general secretary at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community reeling from the killings, its grief compounded by confusion and fear of what may follow.

“We are just completely shocked and still trying to comprehend and understand what happened, how and why,” she said.

Some people have avoided going out unless “absolutely necessary,” and some Muslim university students have been wondering whether it is safe for them to stay in the city, she said. The Islamic Center has also beefed up its security.

Police initially said the same vehicle was suspected of being used in all four homicides — a dark grey or silver four-door Volkswagen that appeared to be a Jetta or Passat with dark, tinted windows. But the police chief’s tweet referred only to the vehicle’s connection with one slaying.

Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

A woman holds up a piece of paper with photos of a car ad the word "Wanted."
Albuquerque Police Deputy Chief of Investigations Cecily Barker, seen on the right, on Sunday, holds a flyer with photos of a car wanted in connection with Muslim men murdered as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham looks on. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal via The Associate Press)

Investigators did not say where the images were taken or what led them to suspect the car was involved in the slayings. Police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said in an email Monday that the agency has received tips regarding the car but did not elaborate.

Gallegos said he could not comment on what kind of gun was used in the shootings, or whether police know how many suspects were involved in the violence.

Motive yet to be determined

Few anti-Muslim hate crimes have been recorded in Albuquerque over the last five years, according to FBI data cited by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and a professor of criminal justice at California State University at San Bernardino.

From 2017 through 2020, there was one anti-Muslim hate crime a year. The highest recent number was in 2016, when Albuquerque police recorded six out of a total of 25 hate crimes.

That largely tracks with national trends, which hit the lowest numbers in a decade in 2020, only to increase by 45 per cent in 2021 in a dozen cities and states, Levin said.

Albuquerque authorities say they cannot determine if the slayings were hate crimes until they have identified a suspect and a motive.

It was not clear whether the victims knew their attacker or attackers.

The most recent victim was found dead after police received a call about a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the killing was carried out in a manner similar to the other deaths.

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