New Mexico police on Sunday asked for the public’s help in locating a “vehicle of interest” in their investigation into four deadly shootings of Muslim men whose murders in Albuquerque over the past nine months are linked, investigators say.
Mayor Tim Keller said state authorities are working on “extra police presence at mosques during prayer times” as the investigation progresses in New Mexico’s largest city, home to as many as 5,000 Muslims out of a total of 565,000 residents.
The latest victim, police said, was shot Friday night in a murder that local Muslim leaders say occurred shortly after he attended funeral services for two others killed in recent weeks.
All three of those men, as well as the very first victim shot in November, were Muslim men of Pakistani or Afghan descent living in Albuquerque.
Police have given few details about the latest murder, but described the first three murders as ambush shootings. Government Michelle Lujan Grisham has characterized them as “targeted murders of Muslim residents.”
I am angry and saddened by the horrific murders of four Muslim men in Albuquerque. While we await a full investigation, I pray with the families of the victims, and my government stands firmly behind the Muslim community.
These hateful attacks have no place in America.
US President Joe Biden posted a message on Twitter on Sunday expressing his solidarity with the Muslim community, adding: “This hateful attack has no place in America.”
Albuquerque police officials told a news conference hours later that they were following some leads and issued a bulletin with photos of a four-door, dark gray Volkswagen sedan with tinted windows that they described as an “interesting vehicle” in the investigation.
Investigate multiple police stations
It was unclear how the car was linked to the case, and police said they were yet to determine whether they were looking for one or more suspects in the investigation.
The three latest victims belonged to the same mosque, said Tahir Gauba, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of New Mexico. Officials withheld the identity of the man killed on Friday pending next of kin’ notice.
But Gauba said he was killed shortly after attending the funeral of the two previous victims.
Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, a planning director for the city of Espanola, NM, who immigrated from Pakistan, was shot dead outside his apartment complex on Aug. 1, less than a week after Aftab Hussein, 41, from the large Afghan community of Albuquerque, was killed on Aug. 26. Found dead near the city’s International District in July, police said. Hussain had once worked on the campaign team for Melanie Stansbury, US Congresswoman from New Mexico.
Police have said they are treating the two killings, along with Friday’s murder, as being related to the November 7 murder of 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi, also a Muslim from Afghanistan, who was shot dead in a parking lot outside a halal supermarket and cafe.
“There are several things in common with all four murders,” city police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos told reporters on Sunday.
When asked whether investigators consider the murders to be hate crimes, Gallegos said, “Hatred is determined by motive, and we don’t know that motive at this time.”
Gauba estimates that there are 3,000 to 5,000 Muslims living in and around Albuquerque, accounting for about 85 percent of the state’s entire Muslim population.
New Mexico State Police, the FBI and the US Marshals Service are among the agencies assisting with the investigation.