Hours after 1,000 mourners attended the funeral for a Queens imam and his assistant, police announced Monday evening that they had arrested a man who could be linked to the bold daylight killing of the two men.
New York City Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told reporters that police had arrested a 36-year-old Hispanic man in connection with a hit-and-run that occurred about 10 minutes after the killing and three miles away in Brooklyn.
Boyce said police believed that the car was the same one identified in surveillance-camera footage that “fled the scene” of the killing. “We also identified a person running into that car and taking off directly after the homicide,” he said.
When New York detectives attempted to arrest the man Sunday night, “he rammed the detectives’ car several times in an attempt to get away,” Boyce said. A witness to the hit-and-run was later able to pick that man out of a lineup, he said.
Boyce said police were not naming the man at this time, nor had he been charged in the deaths of the imam and his assistant. But the development, which New York Police Commissioner William Bratton called “a strong lead,” is likely to bring some solace to the tense Bangladeshi immigrant community in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, two days after the religious leaders were shot at point-blank range after leaving their mosque.
Among those attending the funeral services for Imam Maulama Akonjee and assistant Thara Uddin on Monday afternoon was New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who promised justice and protection for the city’s Muslims.
“I want to say very clearly, New York City is a better place and a stronger place because of our Muslim communities,” said de Blasio, who began and ended his speech with “As-salaam wa aleikum” – “Peace be upon you” – and quoted from the Koran. “We know there are voices all over this country spewing hate,” he told the crowd. “We’re not going to listen to those voices that try to divide us.”
De Blasio, a Democrat, promised extra police protection around mosques in the coming days, an announcement that was met with applause.
Police blocked off several roads around the Brooklyn parking lot where the funeral was held, and scores of officers worked to secure the event, setting up barricades to keep spectators from swarming the black hearses and the speakers’ tent.
Community volunteers handed out water in the searing heat as a lineup of speakers addressed the vast crowd, many of them Bangladeshi immigrants who held signs reading “Stop hate crimes” and “Muslim lives matter.” Akonjee, 55, and Uddin, 64, both fathers of three, had emigrated from Bangladesh.
Community leaders who spoke called on the police to add more security cameras to the corners of city mosques and bring more patrols to the neighborhood. But where de Blasio, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and other officials alluded to divisive rhetoric, local Bengali leaders were more direct.
“This bigot acted upon his hatred, fueled and motivated by the constant rhetoric and xenophobic statements against minorities and Muslims made by the politicians and candidates seeking the highest office in the land,” said Anwar Khan, who read a list of demands for city officials on behalf of “the victims’ families and the communities.”
As the service concluded, the attendees spilled out onto the streets in a protest march that ended beneath the highway overpass where Akonjee and Uddin were killed.
“We want justice, we want justice,” they chanted, many holding their phones aloft to capture the moment. “Allahu akbar,” they also said, reciting the first declaration of Islam: God is great.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Abigail Hauslohner