An imam and a second community leader were shot to death after leaving their mosque in Queens on Saturday afternoon.
New York City police identified one victim as Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55. The Associated Press reported the second victim was Thara Uddin, 64, who assisted Akonjee at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque. Police said both were shot in the head by a man who approached from behind.
Police said Saturday evening that they do not think Akonjee and Uddin were targeted because of their Muslim faith. “At this time, it does not look like it has anything to do with their race or their religion,” Officer Tiffany Phillips told The Washington Post. She did not say whether police knew of a possible motive for the shooting or what led officers to think that religion was not a likely factor.
Police said the two men were shot about 1:50 p.m. at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 79th Street, three blocks from the mosque. Phillips said the men were apparently coming from the mosque when they were attacked.
Police have interviewed witnesses and watched surveillance video of a man approaching the victims from behind and fleeing after the shooting, but they have made no arrests in the case.
According to the AP, members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community served by the mosque expressed fears that whoever killed the two men had targeted Muslims. They called on authorities to treat the shootings as a hate crime.
The AP reported that scores attended a rally at the site of the shooting Saturday night, chanting, “We want justice!”
Shahin Chowdhury, a worshiper at the mosque, told the AP that community members had felt animosity lately and had heard people cursing while passing the mosque. Chowdhury said he had advised fellow community members to take care walking around, especially in traditional clothing.
He called the imam a “wonderful person” with a voice that made his Koran readings especially compelling, the news service said.
Neighbors described Uddin as a pious and thoughtful man who prayed five times a day and went to the mosque, the AP reported. At home, he would water his garden and one next door, they said.
“A very honest, wise man . . . (And) a very helpful guy,” Mohammed Uddin, who is not a relation of Thara Uddin’s, told the wire service.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Julie Zauzmer