Gunman sought in killing of New York Muslim cleric, associate

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

Muslim imam killed, 2nd man wounded in New York shooting

NEW YORK, Aug 15 (Reuters) - New York City police searched on Sunday for a gunman who killed a Muslim cleric and his associate as they left prayers at a mosque in the borough of Queens on Saturday, a crime that sowed fear and sadness in their Bangladeshi community.

A possible suspect had been detained and was being questioned, but has not been charged, NBC News reported early on Monday, citing unnamed sources. A police spokesman could not confirm the report.

SEE ALSO: Search at New York's JFK airport finds no signs of gunfire

Police had yet to establish a motive and said there was no evidence the men were targeted because of their faith, but nothing was being ruled out. Residents demanded authorities treat the brazen daylight shooting as a hate crime.

The gunman approached the men from behind and shot both in the head at close range about 1:50 p.m. (1750 GMT) in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, one of the city's five boroughs, police said in a statement.

See photos from the shooting's aftermath:

19 PHOTOS
shooting ozone park
See Gallery
shooting ozone park
In this Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, photo, people gather near a crime scene for a demonstration after the leader of a New York City mosque and an associate were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens shortly before 2 p.m. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Sandals mark the crime scene, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, not far from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, New York, where the leader of a New York City mosque has been fatally shot and an associate has been wounded in a brazen daylight attack. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Sandals lay on a street corner at the crime scene, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, not far from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, New York, where the leader of a New York City mosque has been fatally shot and an associate has been wounded in a brazen daylight attack. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
A member of the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque stands near a police sketch of a suspect believed to have shot the mosque's Imam, at the end of an evening prayer service at the mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens, New York. Imam Maulama Akonjee and his associate Thara Uddin were shot in the back of the head after they left the mosque following afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
At the front entrance of the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens, a police sketch of a suspect believed to have shot the mosque's Imam taped to a door by members of the mosque Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, a day after 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were shot in the back of the head after they left the mosque following afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
At the front entrance of the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens, a police sketch of a suspect believed to have shot the mosque's Imam is handed out by members of the mosque Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, a day after 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were shot in the back of the head after they left the mosque following afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
At the front entrance of the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens, a police sketch of a suspect believed to have shot the mosque's Imam is tapped to a door Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, a day after 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were shot in the back of the head after they left the mosque following afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Mary Jobaida of New York, rests on a fence outside the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens, New York, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, a day after 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were shot in the back of the head after they left the mosque following afternoon prayers Saturday. Jobaida, who lives in the Long Island City section of Queens, came to show support and solidarity with members of the mosque. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
People, including who family friends say is the the youngest son, at right, of Imam Maulama Akonjee, stand at the door of the family's home in the Ozone Park section of Queens Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, a day after Akonjee and associate Thara Uddin were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. Akonjee's son did not want to be identified by name. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
A police vehicle is parked across the street from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, in the Ozone Park section of the Queens borough of New York. The leader of the mosque, Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and an associate, Tharam Uddin, 64, were fatally shot as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Mike Balsamo)
People, including who family friends say is the the youngest son of Imam Maulama Akonjee, left, stand at the door of the family's home in the Ozone Park section of Queens Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, a day after Akonjee and associate Thara Uddin were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. Akonjee's son did not want to be identified by name. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
People gather for a demonstration Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, near a crime scene after an imam and his friend were fatally shot while walking home from a mosque. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
People gather for a demonstration Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, near a crime scene after the leader of a New York City mosque and an associate were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens shortly. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
In this Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, photo, people gather inside the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens, not far from the crime scene where the leader of the mosque and an associate were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the mosque shortly before 2 p.m. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
People gather for a demonstration Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, near a crime scene after an imam and his friend were fatally shot while walking home from a mosque. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
People gather for a demonstration Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, near a crime scene after an imam and his friend were fatally shot while walking home from a mosque. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
Children of slain Imam Maulama Akonjee stand prayerful in front of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as he speaks at funeral services for the Imam, Monday Aug. 15, 2016, in New York. Imam Akonjee and Thara Uddin were shot in the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
A man cries as community members take part in a protest to demand stop hate crime after the funeral service of Imam Maulama Akonjee, and Thara Uddin in the Queens borough of New York City, August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The victims, identified as Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, were wearing religious garb, police said. Police found them bleeding in the street and took them to a hospital where they were pronounced dead.

"While we do not yet know the motivation for the murders of Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin, we do know that our Muslim communities are in the perpetual crosshairs of bigotry," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "Rest assured that our NYPD will bring this killer to justice."

The men were attacked about two blocks from the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque where they had just left afternoon prayers. Ozone Park, a diverse, largely working-class area, is home to a growing number of Muslims of Bangladeshi heritage.

Millat Uddin, 57, an Ozone Park resident not related to the imam's associate, said both men were born in Bangladesh. He said he was close to Akonjee, describing him as a "docile, calm" father of seven who was beloved in the neighborhood.

"What matters most is harmless people have been shot dead, regardless of whether this was a hate crime," he said. "Our community's heart is broken."

Akonjee was carrying $1,000 with him at the time of the attack but the money was not taken, the New York Times reported.

"I have never felt this kind of tension," said Nizam Uddin, 57, a taxi driver who said he knew both the cleric and his associate. He also was not related to the associate.

'MAKES ALL MUSLIMS SCARED'

The shooting appeared to be the most violent attack against local Muslim leaders in recent years, said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a civil rights and advocacy group.

A report by CAIR and the University of California at Berkeley released in June said the number of recorded incidents in which mosques were targeted jumped to 78 in 2015, the most since the body began tracking them in 2009.

Hooper said he could recall incidents in which an imam was pushed, called names or otherwise harassed. "Things like that, but nothing of this nature, nothing where people were killed," he said.

CAIR said it was offering a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.

Police released a sketch of a male suspect with dark hair, a beard and glasses. Police described him as having a medium complexion. He appeared to be in his 30s or 40s. NBC reported the man being questioned matched the description.

Witnesses told police they saw the assailant, dressed in a dark shirt and blue shorts, fleeing with a gun in his hand, police said. Surveillance footage showed the suspect tailing the victims.

Mohammed Ahmed, 22, works at his father's corner store on Liberty Avenue just two blocks from the shooting. He said he heard the shots while he was at work.

"It makes all the Muslims scared," he said. "Last time someone got shot in this neighborhood that I know of was probably 2001."

Read Full Story

People are Reading