Afghan Man Charged in Muslim Killings Was Headed for Texas

An Afghan man accused of killing two Muslim men in Albuquerque was driving to Texas when he was arrested, and the police said they found a bullet casing in his car that matched those found at one of four crime scenes around the city.

A police detective wrote in a criminal complaint that the suspect, Muhammad Syed, 51, who himself is Muslim, denied that he had anything to do with any of the four killings that have shaken Muslims in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city.

According to the complaint, Mr. Syed told police officers who stopped his car Monday night that he had been driving to Houston to find a new place for his family to live because things were “bad” in Albuquerque, and he referred to the recent shootings. He was pulled over about 100 miles from the Texas state line.

The police said they found a handgun in the car and a spent bullet casing between the windshield of the car and the dashboard. Tests on the handgun, the spent casing and casings that were found at the scene of a killing on Aug. 1 were all a presumptive match, the police wrote in the complaint.

The police said the ballistic evidence was part of what led them to arrest Mr. Syed on suspicion of carrying out the Aug. 1 killing of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner. Mr. Syed was also charged in the July 26 killing of Aftab Hussein, 41, who worked at a cafe.

The Killings of Muslim Men in Albuquerque

  • Suspect Arrested: After the fatal shootings of four Muslim men since last winter — three in recent weeks — the police detained a man who was himself a Muslim.
  • New Details Emerge: Authorities charged the man, an Afghan immigrant, in two of the shootings after they found a bullet casing in his car that matched those found at one of the crime scenes.
  • A Shaken Community: The slayings had Muslim residents fearing for their safety in a place where Muslim immigrants and refugees had felt at home.

At a news conference on Tuesday, police officials said they considered Mr. Syed to also be the “most likely” suspect in the November 2021 killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, as well as in the most recent of the four killings, that of 25-year-old Naeem Hussain on Friday.

Mr. Syed told the police he had known Naeem Hussain since 2016, according to the complaint, which did not describe the men’s relationship further.

Samia Assed, right, hugged Deena Aggad after a vigil at the Islamic Center of New Mexico on Tuesday night.Credit…Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Ahmad Assed, the president of the city’s largest mosque, which several of the victims attended, said he understood that the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Syed was a Sunni Muslim who may have been motivated by anger over his daughter’s marriage to a Shiite Muslim. A police official said at a news conference on Tuesday that they were aware of that information but were not yet sure whether it was a motive for the killings.

Mr. Syed arrived in the United States about six years ago, and he told the police he had fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan with that country’s special forces, according to the complaint.

After detaining Mr. Syed, the police searched his home early on Tuesday morning and found two guns, one in Mr. Syed’s room and one in the room of one of his sons. The police interviewed the son, who denied shooting any of the victims and was released. He said he had purchased a pistol with his father in July, when his father had also purchased an AK-47-style rifle, according to the complaint. The police said Mr. Syed bought a scope for his rifle on Aug. 1.

The police said that both of the victims whom Mr. Syed has been accused of killing were shot more than once. A detective wrote in the complaint that the gunman who killed Aftab Hussein appeared to have waited in the bushes near where Mr. Hussein parked his car and then shot Mr. Hussein when he stepped outside. Several bullet casings were found at the scene.

Six days later, the police said, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was on a video call with a friend at about 8:35 p.m. when he told the friend that he had to go to take another call. Mr. Hussain was shot about 40 minutes later, and was found on a sidewalk about a block away from a nearby park. The police said they found seven 9-millimeter bullet casings at the scene that were later identified as a likely match to the handgun in Mr. Syed’s car, and seven casings of another type that matched the ones found at the scene of Mr. Hussein’s killing.

Mr. Hussain’s older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, said in an interview that he had decided against sending his brother’s body to family members in Pakistan to be buried because his brother had been shot so many times that he was unrecognizable. He said the killer appeared to have “wanted to finish him — the whole nine yards.”

Neelam Bohra contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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