Albuquerque Muslim community in fear after murders of three men in 10 days

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Three Muslim men have been killed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in just 10 days, raising fears in one of America’s smallest Muslim communities as police have warned the deaths may be linked.

The killings also followed the November 2021 killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, another Muslim man, which local advocates and law enforcement officials believe may also be linked to the more recent attacks.

Law enforcement officials have said there is a “strong possibility” the victims were targeted because of race and religion.

In the latest attack, Nayeem Hossain was shot on Friday afternoon while returning from the funeral of the other two victims, Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, who were shot on July 26 and August 1 respectively.

His fiancée, who was on the phone with him, heard the gunshot while waiting in a parking lot. Hossain became an American citizen just two weeks ago.

Since the latest killings, the local Muslim community has been on edge and trying to stay inside as much as possible, Dr Mahmoud Eldenawi, imam at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told the Guardian on Saturday.

“Especially when the evening comes, nobody goes out, they rush to finish everything during the day,” he said. “Unless it’s urgent, they don’t leave home in the evenings. Everyone thinks they are a target.

“We are faith leaders, we ask people to be strong, but we are human beings, we feel worried about our wife and children,” Eldenawi said.

Abbas Akhil, who founded the Islamic Centre, added that they had asked Muslim students, especially those from Pakistan living around the campus, to be vigilant.

The killings happened within a mile of the University of New Mexico campus area, Akhil said.

On Saturday, New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, condemned the killings and said they were “deeply angry and completely intolerable”.

“I am sending more state police officers to Albuquerque to work in close coordination with APD and the FBI to bring the killer or killers to justice — and they will be found,” she said.

“Going by what law enforcement says – that’s disturbing,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), told the Guardian, adding that the council was trying to coordinate the local Muslim community.

Hate crimes targeting race and religion have the highest number of victims among other types of hate crimes in the state.

Eldenawi of the Islamic center said they are pleased with the response of local law enforcement who have checked in on them and since Friday’s killing had six to seven members at the mosque to monitor any potential threat.

They have also patrolled the area, he said.

The mosque usually attracts between 300 and 400 people at Friday prayers, a holy day for Muslims.

He mentioned that the community had also received support and solidarity from the local Christian and Jewish communities.

Eldenawi, who has been in the community for 10 months, said the events came as a shock to him, as he had not faced any discrimination either in Albuquerque or in Arkansas, where he lived for seven years before this.

Apart from an attack in which a woman tried to set fire to the mosque, he had not experienced any discrimination or hate crimes, he said.

Akhil, who founded the Islamic center and has lived in the community for 50 years, echoed this.

“Never,” he said. “New Mexico is not the kind of state where I would expect something like this — it’s a very inclusive state. It made people cry to have two funerals at the same time.”

Despite the attacks, Eldenawi said he was not afraid to be in the public eye as a religious leader.

“I will empower people, we should never let evil dictate our life,” he said.

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