Albuquerque Muslim community in fear after killings of three

Three Muslim men have been killed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a span of just 10 days, stoking fear in one of America’s smallest Muslim communities as police have warned the deaths may be linked.

The killings also followed the November 2021 killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, another Muslim man, which local advocates and law enforcement officials believe could also be linked to the more recent attacks.

Law enforcement officials have said there is a “strong possibility” the victims were targeted because of their race and religion.

In the latest attack Nayeem Hossain was shot on Friday afternoon while returning from the burial of the other two victims, Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, who were shot on 26 July and 1 August, respectively.

His fiance, who was on the phone with him, heard the shot while he was waiting in a parking lot. Hossain had become a US citizen just two weeks ago.

Since the latest killings, the local Muslim community has been on edge and is trying to stay in as much as possible, Dr Mahmoud Eldenawi, imam of the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told the Guardian on Saturday.

“Especially when evening comes, nobody goes out, they’re rushing to finish everything during the daytime,” he said. “Unless it’s urgent they don’t leave home in the evenings. Everybody thinks they’re a target.

“We are faith leaders, we ask people to be strong, but we are human, we do feel concerned about our wife and children,” said Eldenawi.

Abbas Akhil, who founded the Islamic center, added that they had asked Muslim students, especially those from Pakistan living around campus, to be vigilant.

The killings happened within a mile of the area surrounding the campus of the University of New Mexico, Akhil said.

On Saturday, New Mexico’s governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, condemned the killings and said they were “deeply angering and wholly intolerable”.

“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,” she said.

“Going by what law enforcement is saying – it’s disturbing,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), told the Guardian, adding that the council was trying to coordinate the local Muslim community.

Hate crimes targeting race and religion have the highest number of victims among other kinds of hate crimes in the state.

Eldenawi of the Islamic center said they are satisfied with the response of local law enforcement who have been checking in on them and, since Friday’s killing, had six to seven members at the mosque to monitor any potential threat.

They have also been patrolling the area, he said.

The mosque usually attracts between 300 and 400 people at Friday prayers, a holy day for Muslims.

He mentioned the community had also been receiving support and solidarity from the local Christian and Jewish communities.

Eldenawi who has been in the community for 10 months, said the incidents came as a shock for him, as he had not faced any discrimination either in Albuquerque nor in Arkansas, where he lived for seven years before this.

Except for an attack where a woman tried to set the mosque on fire, he had not experienced any discrimination or hate crimes, he said.

Akhil, who founded the Islamic center, and has been living in the community for 50 years, echoed this.

“Never,” he said. “New Mexico is not the type of state where I’d expect something like this – it’s a very inclusive state. It brought people to tears to have two funerals at the same time.”

Despite the attacks, Eldenawi said he did not have any fear being in the public eye as a religious leader.

“I’m supposed to give people power, we should never let evil dictate our life,” he said.