Saturday 22 October 2016

Police hunt for gunman who shot dead New York imam

Kim Ripoll

Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30

People gather near the scene in New York Picture: AP
People gather near the scene in New York Picture: AP

New York City police have released a sketch of the suspect who fatally shot the leader of a mosque and the imam's friend as they left afternoon prayers.

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Witnesses described the shooter of 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and 64-year-old Thara Uddin as a man with a medium complexion, who was last seen wearing a dark shirt and blue shorts.

Police released a sketch of a dark-haired, bearded man wearing glasses.

The gunman approached his victims from behind as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Queens shortly before 2pm on Saturday.

Video surveillance showed that the suspect then fled south on 79th Street, with the gun still in his hand.


Police have not determined a motive and said there was no indication that the victims had been targeted because of their faith.

But members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community served by the mosque are worried that it could be a hate crime and more than 100 attended a rally on Saturday night and chanted "We want justice!"

A police sketch of the suspect in the double murder Picture: NYPD/AP
A police sketch of the suspect in the double murder Picture: NYPD/AP

Naima Akonjee, the imam's daughter, said her father did not have "any problems with anyone".

The Anti-Defamation League is expressing solidarity with New York City's Muslim community in the wake of the shootings.

The organisation said that while the motive for the crime was still unknown, nothing could justify the killing of two men walking from their place of worship.

It urged the NYPD to investigate the shootings as a possible bias crime.

The ADL fights anti-semitism around the world through programmes and services.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference near the shooting scene, where Kobir Chowdhury, a leader at another local mosque, said: "Read my lips: this is a hate crime directed at Islam. We are peace-loving."

Sarah Sayeed, a member of Mayor Bill de Blasio's staff, who liaises with Muslim communities, attended the rally.

"I understand the fear because I feel it myself," she said.

"I understand the anger. But it's very important to mount a thorough investigation."

Letitia James, the city's public advocate who serves as a watchdog over city agencies, said: "This violence is as alarming as it is senseless."

She urged the police department to "vigorously" investigate the double killing.

Members of the community had felt animosity lately, with people cursing while passing the mosque, said one worshipper, Shahin Chowdhury.

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