Show caption This still image taken from officer video provided by the Albuquerque police department shows the arrest of Muhammad Syed, who has been charged with three murders. Photograph: AP US news Suspect charged with three murders that terrorized Albuquerque Muslims Muhammad Syed, 51, faces three charges of first-degree murder but grand jurors stopped short of charging him with a fourth killing Ramon Antonio Vargas Tue 23 Aug 2022 14.21 BST Share on Facebook
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Authorities investigating four killings that terrorized the Islamic community in New Mexico’s largest city have charged their prime suspect with three of the murders.
An Albuquerque grand jury on Monday indicted Afghan refugee Muhammad Syed, 51, on three charges of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of cafe employee Aftab Hussein, urban planning director Muhammad Hussain, and truck business owner Naeem Hussain, over a 10-day stretch beginning in late July.
Syed would face life imprisonment if convicted of any one of those charges.
Grand jurors’ indictment also accused Syed of four counts of tampering with evidence before police arrested him on 9 August, though the document did not immediately elaborate on those charges.
Officials, shortly after arresting him, had booked Syed with the slayings of Aftab Hussein, 41, on 26 July and of Muhammad Hussain, 27, on 1 August. Monday’s indictment added the 5 August shooting death of Naeem Hussain, 25, to the list of charges confronting Syed.
A statement from the Albuquerque district attorney’s office said cellphone evidence allowed its prosecutors to link Syed to Naeem Hussain’s killing.
Investigators have also previously said that they suspected Syed may have carried out a fourth killing dating back to last year: that of grocery store owner Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, on 7 November. But grand jurors on Monday stopped short of charging Syed with that murder.
Syed’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
Because Aftab Hussein, Muhammad Hussain, Naeem Hussain and Mohammad Ahmadi are all Muslim as well as Pakistani and Afghan immigrants, their killings fueled rampant speculation that they may have been the targets of a racist killer, even prompting the Joe Biden White House to condemn “hateful attacks”.
Members of Albuquerque’s Muslim community locked themselves in their homes and contemplated fleeing the city, with the atmosphere of fear reaching a fever pitch when Naeem Hussain was shot dead hours after attending a funeral service for Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Hussain.
But, after police published a description and surveillance pictures of a silver, four-door Volkswagen that appeared to be involved in at least some of the murders, officers spotted Syed driving that vehicle.
Police stopped Syed about 100 miles from New Mexico’s border with Texas on 9 August, found him with a gun and bullet casings matching those recovered at the scenes where Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Hussain were killed, and jailed him.
He has been detained without bond since and insisted he was not guilty in preliminary court hearings.
Police have not said what may have motivated Syed to apparently go on a killing spree. But those acquainted with him have publicly noted that Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was greatly displeased with his daughter for marrying someone from the Shia branch of Islam.
Hussein and Hussain can be Shia surnames, and Ahmadi can be one, too, leading some Muslims in Albuquerque to worry that the victim’s last names possibly factored into their being targeted. Nonetheless, authorities have not confirmed whether that was relevant to Syed’s motive.
Syed’s recent arrest wasn’t his first brush with law enforcement. Court records show he had previously been charged with physically abusing his wife, his son and a man allegedly dating his daughter, though prosecutors eventually dropped this cases and his family has stood by him since he emerged as a murder suspect.