Muslims relieved by murder arrest; suspect denies guilt


(NewsNation) — The Muslim community in Albuquerque, N.M. may be resting easier Tuesday night, following the arrest of a suspect police believe could be behind the killings of four Muslim men in the city.

Police arrested 51-year-old Muhammad Syed and plan to charge him with at least two of the four murders. Investigators believe the murders may have been linked to a conflict Syed had with some of the victims.

Syed denied any connection to the murders and told authorities he was so unnerved by the violence he was exploring moving his family to Houston.

Court documents made public Tuesday night in a criminal complaint said Muhammad Syed, 51, had only clothing, shoes and a handgun in his car when he was arrested Monday during a traffic stop more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from his Albuquerque home.

But investigators determined that bullet casings found in Syed’s vehicle matched the caliber of the weapons believed to have been used in two of the killings and that casings found at those crime scenes were linked to a gun found at Syed’s home, the criminal complaint said.

Syed’s daughter believes her father is innocent.

“I know he is in custody but I don’t think it is true,” Lubna Syed told NewsNation affiliate KRQE.

This undated photo released by the City of Española shows Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, a planning and land use director who was killed in Albuquerque, N.M., on Aug. 1, 2022. Hussain is one of four victims in a series of killings of Muslim men in New Mexico’s largest city as the deaths sent ripples of fear through the religious community nationwide. (City of Española via AP)

Syed has been arrested for just the murders of Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27. Police believe Syed may also have killed Mohammad Ahmadi, 62 and Naeem Hussain, 25.

Hussein’s brother was stunned to learn of Syed’s arrest, a man he says he knew from Mosque.

“I met him and asked him about his family because a couple of times at the same Islamic center,” Muhammad Intiaz Hussein told NewsNation. “At Ramadan, I met him. He had kids who were playing with my kids.”

Muslim community breathes ‘sigh of relief’

Zainab Chaudry, director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Maryland, said the arrest has made the Muslim community thankful.

“We are very gratified, we welcome this arrest. It’s great to see that the law enforcement community has stepped up and has apprehended a suspect we have in custody,” she said. “We hope this provides some measure of relief, especially to the victims’ families, who obviously are going through a very traumatic time.”

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said it was not clear yet whether the deaths should be classified as hate crimes or serial killings or both.

Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, left, speaks at a news conference to announce the arrest of Muhammad Syed, a suspect in the recent killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque, N.M., as Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller listens, at right, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

Following the arrest, Albuquerque’s Muslim community breathed “an incredible sigh of relief,” said Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico. “Lives have been turned upside down.”

Chaudry urged caution over any kind of celebration, however, as she said many details surrounding the killings, the suspect and motivation were still not known.

“Hate violence has no place in our community,” she said. “Whether it be interfaith or intrafaith, it’s very important for us collectively as a community, as a society, as a nation, to stand up together and to push back against any forces that seek to divide us along any lines.”

“For many Muslims, our faith is our moral compass. It is our beacon that guides us through very difficult times and it’s no secret that every community has their challenges,” Chaudry added.

Who is Muhammad Syed?
This photo released Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, by the Albuquerque Police Department shows Muhammad Syed. Syed, 51, was taken into custody Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in connection with the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the last nine months. He faces charges in two of the deaths and may be charged in the others. (Albuquerque Police Department via AP)

Syed, an Afghan immigrant, has lived in the United States for five years.

He told detectives, with assistance from a Pashto interpreter, that he had been with the special forces in Afghanistan and fought against the Taliban, the criminal complaint said.

“The offender knew the victims to some extent, and an interpersonal conflict may have led to the shootings,” a police statement said, although investigators were still working to identify how they had crossed paths.

When asked specifically if Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was angry that his daughter married a Shiite Muslim, Deputy Police Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock did not respond directly. He said “motives are still being explored fully to understand what they are.”

Assed acknowledged that “there was a marriage,” but he cautioned against coming to any conclusions about the motivation of Syed, who occasionally attended the center’s mosque.

In 2017, a boyfriend of Syed’s daughter reported to police that Syed, his wife and one of their sons had pulled him out of a car, punching and kicking him before driving away, according to court documents. The boyfriend, who was found with a bloody nose, scratches and bruises, told police that he was attacked because they did not want her in a relationship with him.

Syed was arrested in May 2018 after a fight with his wife turned violent, court documents said. Prosecutors said both cases were later dismissed after the victims declined to press charges.

Syed also was arrested in 2020 after he was accused of refusing to pull over for police after running a traffic light, but that case was eventually dismissed, court documents said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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