Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Investigators say shootings of 3 Middle Eastern men may be connected

Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, speaks during a news conference about recent shootings investigators believe may be targeting the Muslim community. (Chancey Bush/ )

Investigators believe there is a strong possibility that the same person — or persons — shot and killed a 62-year-old Afghani man in November, a 41-year-old Afghani man in July and a 27-year-old Pakistani man earlier this week.

“While we won’t go in all the specifics of why we think that, there’s one strong commonality in all victims: the race and religion,” said Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock at a news conference in front of the Islamic Center of New Mexico Thursday morning. “We are taking this very seriously. 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 detectives have other information that leads them to believe the same person is responsible for the crimes, but he couldn’t get into it without compromising the investigation.

Mohammed Ahmadi

On Nov. 7, 2021 Mohammad Ahmadi was fatally shot behind the Ariana Halal Market & Cafe he owned with his brother on San Mateo near Mountain NE. The brothers had come to the United States in the 1980’s and opened the market in 2008. Earlier this year his brother told the Journal that Ahmadi had stayed at the shop after hours to finish cooking and he suspects he had gone outside to smoke a cigarette when hey what shot.

On June 26, Aftab Hussein was killed on the 400 block of Rhode Island, north of Central. Police say they were called to the scene around 10:30 pm by an alert from the department’s gun shot detection system. When they arrived they found Hussein had been killed.

On Aug. 1, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was shot to death less than a block from his apartment on the 400 block of Coal, south of the University of New Mexico. His brother told the Journal he had likely been making a phone call. Muhammad Afzaal got a master’s degree from UNM and was the former president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association. He was the planning and land use director for the city of Española and his death sparked an outpouring of grief from those who knew him, including congresswoman Melanie Stansbury and UNM president Garnett Stokes.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was shot and killed less than a block from his home on Cornell, south of Coal SE Monday night. (Courtesy of Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain)

Ahmad Assed, an attorney and the president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said after the news of Muhammad Afzaal’s death began to circulate, leaders in the community reached out to law enforcement. He said he didn’t believe the three victims knew one another.

“The community certainly is in need of understanding the egregiousness of the conduct displayed in all three of theses shootings,” Assed said. “If it’s true that we were targeted as Muslims then they need to be very vigilant in protecting themselves and taking measures of precaution. They need to watch out for their surroundings.”

He spoke at the news conference along with Chief Administrative Officer Lawrence Rael, 2nd District Attorney Raúl Torrez and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albuquerque Office Raul Bujanda. Police Chief Harold Medina did not attend the news conference since he is in quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19.

Hartsock said detectives believe all three victims were ambushed and didn’t have any warning about the danger they were in. He said they can’t say yet if the shootings were hate crimes.

“We’ve reached out to the FBI immediately and they’ve already committed to give what resources they can,” he said. “We can’t call it a thing until we probably have someone identified and really know what their intention is in doing this. And we don’t know enough yet to clearly say that — but that could change.”

He said in cases like this it’s almost always the public who helps investigators identify a suspect.

“My guess is someone out there either directly knows who did this and they can provide that information to police or they’ve noticed some behavior changes in someone around them that they think could possibly do this,” Hartsock said. “Two of these murders have happened in the past week. Whoever’s doing them, is changing up their lifestyle, their behavior, something is off more than usual. And we want you to let us know why you think that is.”

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