Saturday 17 March 2018

Imam and his assistant shot dead in New York as local Muslims accuse Donald Trump of stoking Islamophobia

Police said they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime

Police at the scene where two men were shot near a mosque in the Queens borough of New York AP
Police at the scene where two men were shot near a mosque in the Queens borough of New York AP

Andrew Buncombe

An imam and his assistant have been killed after a gunman opened fire close to a New York mosque. Local residents claimed it was a targetted shooting and reports said police were investigating it as a possible hate crime.

The New York Daily News said that gunshots rang out at around 2pm on Saturday near the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Ozone Park, Queens, leaving both victims lying on the ground in their own blood just a block from the mosque. The identities of the two victims were not immediately made public. The imam, Maulana Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, were fatally injured, police said.

An undated photo of Imam Maulama Akonjee.
An undated photo of Imam Maulama Akonjee.

“People being shot in the head in broad daylight is unheard of,” said Millat Uddin, a 25-year resident of the neighborhood.

“Killing people brutally, like they’re an animal. We need justice ... It seems like somebody has taken the law into their own hand.”

Thara Uddin
Thara Uddin

The killing of the two men in the borough of Queens was denounced as a hate crime, with local members of the Islamic community blaming Donald Trump, accusing him of stoking Islamophobia.

Witnesses described the gunman as tall and Hispanic, and was reported to still be at large. Police said they were still investigating the motive.

Tiffany Phillips, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department, confirmed that two men in their 50’s were shot on a street in the Ozone Park section of Queens.

One of them was killed and the second was gravely wounded, but Ms Phillips declined to provide any more information about their identities. Police have yet to identify a suspect and the motive was still unknown, she told Reuters. Later, it was reported that the second man had also sucumbed to his injuries.

Donna Jag, 49, heard the shots and thought they were a car backfiring until she left her house to find a huge crowd of distraught people on the street.

“It was chaos,” she told the News. “I was nervous. The neighborhood is quiet, but now, it’s kind of scary, right at my doorstep in broad daylight.”

The neighborhood is a mix of residences and businesses, but people of different faiths have long gotten along peacefully, she said.

“We have Hindus and Muslims here, and we have no problems. This is really, really shocking,” she said.

Police said they were investigating whether the incident, initially reported as a robbery, was a hate crime. On Saturday evening, the gunman was still at large.

In the wake of  last December’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, which left 14 people dead, Mr Trump pledged to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

The slaughter  of 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, and the wave of terrorist attacks in Europe have also regularly been used by Mr Trump as evidence of a need for America to change its immigration policies.

Mr Trump, who has been accused of exploiting fears of Islamist attacks for political ends, was rounded on by members of the Muslim community in Queens.

The Bangladeshi community is one of the fastest growing in America and, according to one estimate, there could be as many as 100,000 in New York City.

“That’s not what America is about,” said local resident Khairul Islam, 33. “We blame Donald Trump for this. Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia.”

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