Many people are wondering if the Saturday afternoon shooting deaths of two Muslims in a Queens neighborhood was motivated by anti-Islamic hostility, while New York City police still search for a suspect. Muslim cleric Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, both of whom were wearing religious garb when they were killed, were shot in the head while walking together along a city street after attending prayers at a nearby mosque.
Police told Religion News Service they still had no motive and no suspect in the shootings, which took place about 1:50 p.m. on Saturday afternoon in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, a working class community that is home to many Bangladeshi Muslims.
Akonjee was a father of four who reportedly arrived from Bangladesh two years ago and was widely respected in the community. Police said Akonjee was carrying more than $1,000 but the money was not taken. Akonjee was described as a peaceful man. "He would not hurt a fly," his nephew Rahi Majid, 26, told the New York Daily News. "You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings."
Uddin was a father of three.
"These were two very beloved people," Afaf Nasher, executive director of the New York chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Reuters. "These were community leaders."
"We are calling for all people, of all faiths, to rally with compassion and with a sense of vigilance so that justice can be served," Nasher said. "You can't go up to a person and shoot them in the head and not be motivated by hatred."
Witnesses said the assailant was a man dressed in a dark shirt and blue shorts. The gunman approached the men from behind and shot both in the head at close range, according to a police statement. He was seen by witnesses and on video surveillance cameras fleeing the scene with a gun in his hand.
The men were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where they died, hospital spokesman Andrew Rubin said.
On Sunday, police released a sketch of a suspect with dark hair, a beard and glasses. Police described him as having a medium complexion. He appeared to between 30 to 50 years old.
Police were not ruling out any motive for the attack. The motive for the shooting was not immediately known and no evidence has been uncovered that the two men were targeted because of their faith, Tiffany Phillips, a spokeswoman for the New York City Police Department, told CNBC.
"We feel really insecure and unsafe in a moment like this," Millat Uddin, an Ozone Park resident told CBS television in New York. "It's really threatening to us, threatening to our future, threatening to our mobility in our neighborhood, and we're looking for the justice."