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‘Ambushed’: Albuquerque PD, FBI probing murders of 4 Muslim men

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Police in New Mexico are working to solve the killings of four Muslim men since November, including one man who was slain this weekend after attending the funerals for two other victims.

Naeem Hussain was found shot to death just before midnight Friday, according to Albuquerque police officials. The Albuquerque Journal reported that Hussain was slain in the parking lot of Lutheran Family Services, an organization that offers services for refugees and asylum seekers.

Hussain, who worked as a truck driver, volunteered for the organization, according to The Washington Post.

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A friend told the Journal that Hussain was a “really kind person” who had become a U.S. citizen just weeks before he was slain. Tahir Gauba, director of public affairs for the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said Hussain, who was in his mid-20s, was talking on the phone with his fiancée when he was shot.

“She heard the gunshot, I think, and she freaked out,” Gauba told the newspaper. “So, he didn’t respond after that, so she called one of his friends. His friend went over there, and his friend is the one who called 911.”

Police officials over the weekend released photos of a dark gray or silver Volkswagen Jetta believed to be linked to all the homicides. They are urging the public to come forward with information about the killings or the person or people responsible.

Albuquerque Metro Crime Stoppers is also offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering $10,000 for information on the case.

Detectives are investigating whether Hussain’s death is related to the murders of three other Muslim men killed in the city over the past nine months. Police and city officials announced Thursday that they had determined there was a “strong possibility” the first three killings were connected.

“Now, people are beginning to panic,” Gauba told the Journal.

Naeem Hussain spent part of his final hours at the Islamic Center, where he had a meal with others mourning the deaths of Aftab Hussein, 41, and 27-year-old Muhammed Afzaal Hussain. The men, both of whom were Pakistani Muslims, were killed July 26 and Aug. 1, respectively, in Southeast Albuquerque, near Central Avenue, police officials said.

Though the three men shared similar surnames, they were not related to one another, according to authorities.

Watch Albuquerque police and city officials talk about the spate of murders below.

Muhammed Afzaal Hussain worked as planning and land use director for the City of Española. John Ramon Vigil, the city’s mayor, described the slain man as “soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh.”

“He was well-respected and well-liked by his coworkers and members of the community,” Vigil wrote in a statement. “Our city staff has lost a member of our family, and we all have lost a brilliant public servant who wanted to serve and improve his community.”

Both Muhammed Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein were buried on Saturday.

“As a result of these murders, detectives are now trying to determine whether the Nov. 7, 2021, murder of Mohammad Ahmadi, a Muslim from Afghanistan, is also related to the more recent homicides,” authorities said in a news release. “Ahmadi was killed outside of a business he and his brother ran at 1401 San Mateo Blvd.”

Ahmadi, 62, and his brother owned a halal market and café. The slain man was found shot to death in the rear parking lot.

Kyle Hartsock, deputy commander of the police department’s Criminal Investigations Division, said last week that there was “one strong commonality” in all of the victims: their race and religion.

“We are taking this very serious, and we want the public’s help in identifying this cowardly individual who in all three cases ambushed their victims with no warning, fired shots and killed them,” Hartsock said.

Aftab Hussein was slain in the 400 block of Rhode Island Street, and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain was found dead on a sidewalk in the area of Cornell Street and Lead Avenue SE, police officials said. Both men were ambushed near their homes, the Journal reported.

The murders have stoked outrage in the Albuquerque community and far beyond. President Joe Biden tweeted on Sunday that he was angered and saddened by the “horrific” killings.

“While we await a full investigation, my prayers are with the victims’ families, and my administration stands strongly with the Muslim community,” Biden said. “These hateful attacks have no place in America.”

Vice President Kamala Harris voiced similar sentiments, tweeting that she is “deeply disturbed” by the shootings and that she stands with the Muslim community.

“Hate has no place in America,” Harris said.

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Back in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the targeted killings “wholly intolerable” and vowed to supply Albuquerque authorities with extra resources.

“I am sending additional 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,” the governor tweeted.

Along with the FBI and the New Mexico State Police, local detectives are receiving assistance from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service, Albuquerque police Chief Harold Medina said Saturday.

Medina, who addressed reporters via Zoom because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, detailed some of the things being implemented in the case.

“On top of our investigations into this murder, we’re devoting resources to key patrol areas and neighborhoods within Albuquerque,” Medina said. “We lifted overtime caps for our officers so that we could utilize several of our specialized units to help ensure the strong presence of Albuquerque officers to keep the community safe.”

Deputy Chief Josh Brown said the department worked with the Muslim community when deciding where to place resources.

“We’re going to have multiple command posts stationed throughout key areas in the city,” Brown said. “This will allow people who … if they see something, and don’t have immediate access to phone or communication to stop by, drop off tips, talk to law enforcement officers who are there and available in the area.”

Those who do have phone access are urged to call the police, the FBI or Crime Stoppers.

“We urge our entire interfaith community of Albuquerque and all the people of Albuquerque to help law enforcement identify and catch the person or persons responsible,” said Michelle Melendez, director of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion. “Please, please, call with any bit of information.”

Anyone with information on the murders is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 505-843-STOP (7867) or to submit a tip online here.

The Albuquerque Police Department has also created a public online portal where anyone can upload videos or photos that they believe will assist in solving the killings. That portal can be found here.

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