Police say they have arrested a primary suspect in the recent killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Authorities say Muhammad Syed, 51, committed at least two of the killings and may have been motivated by anger that his daughter had married outside of her branch of Islam. The four victims are Mohammad Ahmadi, Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, Aftab Hussein and Naeem Hussain. We go to Albuquerque to speak with Samia Assed, human rights activist and organizer, who was the host of a memorial Tuesday night at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Albuquerque’s longest-standing and largest mosque that at least three of the victims had attended. She discusses the increased police presence in the Muslim community and the suspect’s own identity that contradicted initial assumptions that the killings were anti-Muslim hate crimes. “With this perpetrator being Muslim, I just want to say violence is not exclusive to the Muslim community,” says Assed. “It shouldn’t be a judgment call on who we are.”
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where police say they’ve arrested a primary suspect in the recent killings of four Muslim men in the city. The suspect is himself a Muslim man. This comes after the body of Naeem Hussain was found earlier this month, just hours after he attended the funerals of Pakistani immigrants Muhammed Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein at the Islamic Center of New Mexico. Those two were killed the week before in what police described as separate “ambush-style” shootings. A fourth South Asian Muslim man, Mohammad Ahmadi, was killed in November. Since the murders, many members of the Muslim community say they’ve been afraid to go outside. Albuquerque Police Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock gave an update on the arrest at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
KYLE HARTSOCK: Back on July 26 of ’22, late at night, Aftab Hussein was found shot to death off Rhode Island Southeast. On August 1st, ’22, again late at night, Muhammed Afzaal Hussain was found dead not too far away, off Cornell Southeast.
Our homicide unit, as well as the crime scene team, started to notice some similarities between these two cases. With the help of the ATF’s NIBIN program, we were able to relate the casings found on both these scenes that were likely fired from the same firearm. We quickly started looking at other cases that could be similar, and identified that there might be a really active public threat, someone targeting a certain community for reasons unknown, or certain persons for reasons unknown.
Five days ago, we came to the public and asked you guys for help. Just five days ago. And in five days we’ve identified 51-year-old Muhammad Syed as the person who perpetrated at least the two crimes on Rhode Island and Cornell Southeast. We’re continuing to investigate his involvement in the other crimes closely with the District Attorney’s Office and the federal prosecutor’s office. What we can tell you is a tip from the community is what helped us lead us to this subject, and what helped us eventually find the car that we put out just two days ago to the public.
AMY GOODMAN: Police say Muhammad Syed is originally from Afghanistan and that a, quote, “interpersonal conflict” may have led to the shootings. Congressmember Melanie Stansbury, whose district includes Albuquerque, remembered one of the victims, Muhammed Afzaal, who had worked as a field organizer for her congressional campaign.
REP. MELANIE STANSBURY: Mumammed was kind, hopeful, optimistic, a city planner who believed in democracy and in social change, and who believed that we could, in fact, build a brighter future for our communities and for our world. Our community has lost brothers, fathers, husbands, uncles and beloved friends.
AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds attended a memorial Tuesday night at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Albuquerque’s longest-standing and largest mosque, which at least three of the victims had attended. This is Ahmad Assed, president of the center.
AHMAD ASSED: My astonishment for the community, it’s just — I can’t put enough words to tell you how shocked we were and how — how much this community has suffered as a result of the killings and how we just can’t make heads or tails of it. We’re still in a very surreal time, trying to make sense of these senseless killings that have — that we’ve suffered.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Albuquerque to speak with Ahmad Assed’s sister, Samia Assed, human rights activist, organizer, who was host of the memorial at the Islamic Center of New Mexico last night. She’s former board chair of the city of Albuquerque’s Human Rights Board.
Samia, we first met you when Democracy Now! covered the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. You were part of the New Mexico delegation. Our deepest condolences to you and your community. You’ve said this has been one of the hardest weeks of your life. Can you tell us what you understand so far about these four murders and the arrest of the suspect yesterday, Muhammad Syed?
SAMIA ASSED: Good morning, Amy. Thank you. Yes, I do recall the 2017 interview.
And yes, yesterday’s events and happenings, the reports that we got from the APD and city officials, was exactly as you reported. There was no new additional information. Needless to say, it was shocking to all of us. We had a sigh of relief that there was some kind of closure. Community was in fear and terrified. So, we’re still in shock, and we’re still figuring out the details as we speak right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Samia, I’d like to ask you — at the memorial last night, both the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and the mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller, spoke. How are local officials — how have they been responding to these tragedies in your community?
SAMIA ASSED: They’ve been very helpful. They’ve been very available to the community, ready to support us in any capacity. And, of course, as you saw yesterday at the memorial, their presence was extremely important to uplift the spirits of the community, that has been devastated, quite frankly, by these losses.
AMY GOODMAN: You knew the men. Did you know all four of them? Can you tell us about them? I mean, you have the funeral on Friday of two of the men, and then, right after that, one of the men who attended their funerals was gunned down.
SAMIA ASSED: I knew two of the victims. Mohammad Ahmadi, who was a store owner, I knew of him. I had patroned his market. He was a nice, nice gentleman. But, you know, Muhammed Afzaal, who was a friend of ours, was a devastating loss. He was just such a gentle, gentle soul. For me, as a community organizer, to have another Muslim man who was deeply in touch with the needs of the community and was ready and was doing the good work and civic engagement and engaging his community — he believed in a brighter future, and he was taken away way too soon. It’s a tremendous loss for us. I was devastated, needless to say. I knew him throughout organizing. My son, who was a ASUNM senator at UNM, worked closely with him, as Muhammed was also president of the Graduate Student Association at UNM. So, you can imagine the interactions that went on in the community. This was very personal. This was close and near to all of us. So, yes, it rattled us. His loss was really hard on us, and it’s a loss to the community, as are all four.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, who vowed to increase the presence of police in the Muslim community.
HAROLD MEDINA: The Albuquerque Police Department will continue to be visible in the Muslim community in the days to come and throughout the weeks to ensure that they feel safe and that they have time to come back to a normal life.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned at all, now that they say they have the primary suspect, about the increased presence of police — it was also announced of FBI — in the Muslim community of New Mexico?
SAMIA ASSED: You know, surveillance in the post-September world for the Muslim community is always a concern. But in this case, it was needed. And I’m thankful Chief Medina has actually reassured the Muslim community by safeguarding the community. And we needed it. It was such — you know, we’re such a small community, 3,000 to 4,000 Muslims within the city of Albuquerque, to have this sequence and number of community members that have been murdered, like I said, I think the community needed some assistance from the city in really putting at ease many of the Muslim community.
You know, as a result of what happened in the last week, which was a really, really heavy week, people were not leaving their homes. They were scared. They were not going — you know, people were — school starts today. People were afraid of sending kids. We need to get back to norm, to the normal, if there is one, you know, whatever normal we have. And if the presence helps ease all New Mexican Muslims and New Mexicans at large, if it helps put them at ease, then it serves a purpose. And I think at this day and age, yes, it absolutely helps, for sure, put the community at ease.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, I was going to ask precisely about that, because initial fears, obviously, were that these horrific killings were the result of some sort of anti-Muslim hate crimes. When you hear the news that the main suspect or the person charged is part, a member of the Muslim community, how do you deal with that?
SAMIA ASSED: It was hard. It was really shocking. You know, I was at home when I got the news. And I first was really alleviated that we had caught the suspect. But it felt like almost — to me personally, it took me back to the September 11th moment, where it was like, “Oh gosh,” I really wanted to hide, and hide under a rock, you know, kind of situation, because it’s devastating. It’s shocking. We still can’t — it’s so surreal. We don’t know what to make of it, right? We never expected it to be from us, even though we were open to all scenarios. And, you know, a lot of people were thinking it was a hate crime. And it was a common denominator in the conversation outside the community, based on, really, the Islamophobic attacks on the community across the nation post-September 11th, again. I mean, we’ve been targeted. And as election season nears, that is also a worry. And it’s still a worry, right?
But with this perpetrator being Muslim, I just want to say it’s not — you know, violence is not exclusive to the Muslim community. It can happen in any community. And it shouldn’t be a judgment call on who we are. And how we move forward is we’ll address all of how we unify the community. And that’s exactly where we are, and how we plan to move forward is really solidifying relationships. And part of that was just beginning with the memorial yesterday, to bring it back to the base. You know, the community here in Albuquerque, there is no difference. At the ICNM, all my life it’s always been a diverse group of ethnicities, a diverse group of religious sects. We never had that divide. And we don’t intend to have that divide. And again, you know, as hard as it is, we’re going to get through this.
AMY GOODMAN: Samia Assed, again, all our condolences, human rights activist, organizer in Albuquerque, member of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
Next up, the FBI recently raided properties in St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Petersburg, Florida, tied to the African People’s Socialist Party, as the Justice Department indicts a Russian man who they accuse of using U.S.-based groups to spread Russian propaganda. We’ll speak with the African People’s Socialist Party founder Omali Yeshitela, whose home was raided. We’re going to St. Louis. Stay with us.