Pictured above: Suspect composite sketch.
Suspect in shooting taken into custody
The killer who crept up behind an imam and his friend near a Queens mosque and shot both men in the head may have been settling a score in a feud between Muslims and Hispanics, police sources said early Monday.
And he may have left behind another victim who unwittingly held the clue that solved the crime, the sources said.
The suspected killer was taken into custody Sunday night but had not been charged or identified, according to the sources. Police officials would not confirm whether a suspect was nabbed.
Video of the horrific Saturday afternoon murders of mosque leader Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 65, at Liberty Ave. and 79th St. in Ozone Park showed the brazen crime to be a planned execution.
But the killer may have gotten sloppy in his haste after pulling the trigger and hit a bicyclist with his car, sources said.
The cyclist took down the car’s license plate number and gave it to police, who began tracking down their man.
Members of an NYPD Regional Fugitive Task Force were conducting what turned out to be a “brief surveillance” of the suspect in Queens when he rammed an unmarked cop car, sources said. That’s when officers nabbed him.
Investigators were questioning him early Monday and were waiting for a warrant to check his home.
Sources pointed to an ongoing feud between Muslims and Hispanics in the neighborhood, saying the shooting may have been payback after a group of Muslims allegedly attacked some Hispanics a few weeks earlier.
CCTV Footage of Queens, NY Shooting of Imam:
Video courtesy of: BuzzFeed News and sharia unveiled
Cops have established, that at 1:50 p.m. Saturday, the assassin quickly approached Akonjee and Uddin and shot them both in the head at close range. The double killing came just moments after prayers concluded at the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque.
The killer’s prowess got cops’ attention.
“This guy looks like he has shot a gun before. You don’t walk up behind someone, even from 5 feet, and just get two head shots. How many times you see cops fire 16 times and they hit the guy only twice?” a police source said.
One of the victims was carrying several hundred dollars, police sources said, but the gunman showed no interest in the cash.
“It doesn’t look like a robbery because it doesn’t look like he said anything before he shot the guys. The guy just comes up behind and shoots,” the source said.
Cops released a sketch of the suspect and described him as tall and Hispanic with a thin beard, dark hair and glasses. It was unclear whether the person sources said was in custody matches that description. It was also unknown if both men were intended targets.
“Is this just about one of the victims and he decided to shoot both?” the source asked.
As cops pursued both angles, Mayor de Blasio vowed the NYPD would bring the killer of the two Bangladeshi men to justice.
“This weekend our city was stung by violence that devastated a congregation and unsettled a community. When religious leaders are targeted, we all bear the pain those in Ozone Park feel most personally today,” de Blasio said. “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 cross hairs of bigotry.”
But Khairul Islam Kukon, a community activist and a member of the mosque called out de Blasio for not visiting the site.
“It’s been more than 48 hours,” Kukon said. “The mayor has not been here. If this was a Jewish community, the mayor would be there the next hour.”
De Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said, “The mayor and our senior staff have been in constant contact with community leaders since the tragedy.”
Jewish activists visited the mosque Sunday night in a show of solidarity. Robert Silverman, 57, director of Muslim/Jewish relations for the America Jewish Congress, went straight to the mosque after getting off a flight from Indonesia.
“We’re here to show support to the Muslim community,” he said. “It was a heinous crime. We have to rely on the police to decide if this was a hate crime. We really don’t know what this was motivated by.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it will announce a $10,000 reward at a news Monday conference in Washington. Meanwhile, Gov. Cuomo expressed his concern for the victims’ families.
“While we don’t yet know the motivation behind these senseless murders, we stand in solidarity with the Muslim community as they grieve this loss,” Cuomo tweeted. “The perpetrators of this heinous crime will be found, and justice will be served.”
Scared Muslims who pleaded for more police protection in the neighborhood immediately suspected the murders were a hate crime. Many said GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric had set the stage for the killings.
“We think it’s a hate crime. All this Donald Trump … we have been dealing with a lot of hatred lately,” said Arief Hussain, 23.
But mosque member Johnny Patwary said politics should not be part of the discussion.
“I don’t believe it’s to do with Trump. We’re all human beings at the end of the day,” said Patwary, 28.
Akonjee and Uddin were described as devout family men.
“We want justice. Why did they kill my father?” Akonjee’s third-oldest son, Naim, 21, said, tearing up.
“Our worship houses never get protected. We need more police officers here,” Mohamed Hassan, 31, said. “This guy followed them and shot them point-blank!”