Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, are desperately working to trace a vehicle linked to the ‘ambush-style’ murder of four Shia Muslim men.

The American Muslim Bar Association called for increased security at mosques during Ashura, stating that all four victims were Shia Muslims.

The names of the deceased are Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, Aftab Hussein, 41, and twenty-five-year-old Naeem Hussain.

Three of the murders occurred in the last two weeks as police look at connections to an unsolved murder from last year.

“While we are still sifting through all the evidence to look for more connections, it is deeply troubling that these three men were Muslim and of similar descent,” according to Kyle Hartsock, the deputy commander of Albuquerque Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division.

The local FBI is also assisting with the investigation, instructing the public to report anything they see of interest, no matter how small or insignificant they perceive.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein (each murder victim attending the same mosque) came from Pakistan. Their killings occurred just days apart: the murder of Hussain occurred on August 1, with Aftab Hussein’s killing on July 26, per the Albuquerque Journal.

The murder of 62-year-old Mohammed Ahmadi occurred last November behind the halal market he owned alongside his brother, murdered by a single gunshot to his head. Ahmadi and his brother fled Afghanistan in the 1980s and settled in Albuquerque in the 1990s after spending time in Pennsylvania. Hadi spoke of his brother’s excellent cooking skills and that “everybody loved him”.

The understandable levels of fear mean some are not leaving their homes, seeking (or have done so) to leave the state or quitting jobs. For example, an unidentified member of the Islamic Center of New Mexico told the New York Times how they feared attending the mosque. Worshippers have since minimised activities outside their homes and use a “buddy system” if venturing outside.

Police described what connects all three murders was how each man was “ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed”.

At a news conference yesterday (August 7), police confirmed that they “are putting every possible resource into these investigations.”

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted: “We will continue to do everything we can to support to the Muslim community of Albuquerque and greater New Mexico during this difficult time.You are New Mexicans, you are welcomed here, and we stand with you.”

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both strongly supported Muslims across the United States and in Albuquerque in statements, condeming the hateful killings.

Police have provided transcripts of the press conferences and reassurance messages in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and Dari.

Former Española Mayor Javier Sanchez, who had hired Hussain as a planning director, described him as “a soul that was untouched by anything. He was just a really good man.” For Mayor John Ramon Vigil, “Muhammad was soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh”.

A friend of Naeem Hussain told the press: “He was a really kind person and no reason for someone to kill him like this”.

Tahir Gauba, a spokesperson for the Islamic Center of New Mexico, gave more heartbreaking details about the murders – including that the killing of the fourth victim occurred after they had attended the funeral of two previous victims. His brother-in-law Ehsan Shahalami described how Naaem had fled Pakistan because of his Shia identity and had only recently gained US citizenship.

A friend of Mohammad Ahmadi wrote: “He was kind and generous and I will miss him forever.”

Iftikhar Amirjan, a friend of Aftab Hussein, spoke of the significant loss of their friend, who was like a brother to him – and their plans to return to Pakistan to marry and bring his wife with him before buying a house and becoming a father. The Albuquerque Journal added that Hussein’s brother had flown in from the UK.

Amidst the panic and communal grief, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said: “Our senior affairs department and our community safety department is going to be providing meals as long as we need, to anyone who needs a meal who is affected by this tragedy”.

On Facebook, the Islamic centre said: “We urge everyone to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings including making sure that you are not being followed home and avoid walking alone at night”. The message stressed the safety of worshippers who reside in the southern part of the city “where these killings have taken place”. In addition, those wanting to access the mosque at certain prayer times informed members of the necessity of requesting FOB key access.

Tell MAMA has general safety advice in English, Urdu, Arabic and other languages that we always encourage the public to download and access.

We will update our news story with further developments when they become publicly available – but for now, please follow the Albuquerque Police Department (@ABQPOLICE) for ongoing developments and how to share appeals for information.

UPDATE (09/08/22): Police presence and reassurance patrols have increased in the area, especially around prayer times, as officers continue to deliver food parcels. In addition, CNN reported that additional police patrols are now taking place at Muslim-affiliated schools and the University of New Mexico.

UPDATE (10/08/22): New details emerged including that prime suspect 51-year-old Muhammad Syed had a history of domestic abuse, according to his daughter, adding that he did not initially approve of her marriage, and that her husband knew Aftab Hussein and Naeem Hussain. Hundreds of tips helped police idenity Syed, who is charged with homicide in relation to the murders of the killings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. According to Reuters, “the killings may have been rooted in a personal grudge, possibly with intra-Muslim sectarian overtones”.

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