Suspect charged in killings of New York imam and assistant

NYPD on Monday announced that they have charged 35-year-old Brooklyn native Oscar Morel with the double murder of a New York imam and his friend

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio speaks during funeral prayers for Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin on August 15, 2016 in New York.

New York police on Monday announced they have charged a suspect with the double murder of a New York imam and his friend, in a brutal attack that sent shock waves through US Muslim communities.

Oscar Morel, a 35-year-old Brooklyn man, has been charged with two counts of murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, NYPD Detective Hubert Reyes told AFP.

Fearful Muslim New Yorkers have demanded stepped-up security and justice as hundreds of mourners attended the two men's funeral service in Queens.

Maulama Akonjee, 55, who migrated to the United States from Bangladesh, and his friend, 64-year-old Thara Uddin, were shot dead in broad daylight on Saturday afternoon in the Ozone Park neighbourhood.

Police had earlier said hate crime was being investigated as a possible motive -- as demanded by Muslim elders -- but did not provide any information on the suspect's motives Monday evening.

The New York Daily News quoted police sources as saying the killer may have been settling a score in a feud between Muslims and Hispanics, suggestions that have been dismissed by members of the Muslim community.

"We want justice, we want justice, we want justice," chanted Muslim elders at a chaotic news conference before Monday's funeral.

Community members gather during funeral prayers for Imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin on August 15, 2016 in New York.

Xenophobic Statements

The Council on American-Islamic Relations had offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to an arrest or conviction.

Community leaders, clearly rattled by rising Islamophobia, slammed "xenophobic statements" made against Muslims speech by "politicians and candidates seeking the highest office in the land" -- a clear reference to Donald Trump.

Trump, the New York billionaire and the Republican nominee, used a keynote address on Monday to demand ideological screening tests for immigrants, saying immigrants had been responsible for a string of extremist attacks in America.

One speaker at the pre-funeral conference demanded security cameras be erected outside mosques and for the street where the two men were shot to be renamed in their honour.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who paid his respects with other elected officials, promised extra police would protect mosques and Muslim communities, saying the entire city stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those in mourning.

"We know there are voices all over this country who are spewing hate, trying to create division, trying to turn one American against another," de Blasio said.

"We're not going to let them continue to encourage acts of hatred."

Police on Sunday had released a sketch of the suspect "with a medium complexion, last seen wearing a dark coloured shirt and blue shorts."

The sketch showed a man wearing glasses with a beard, moustache and a high forehead with his hair combed back.

The working-class area where the victims were killed, on the border between Queens and Brooklyn, is home to many Muslim families from Bangladesh.

Akonjee had been carrying more than $1,000, but the attacker did not take the money, police said.

AFP, TRTWorld and agencies