Muslims in Albuquerque ‘Very Scared’ After 4 Killings, Victim’s Brother Says
- Three Muslim men have been killed in Albuquerque in the last three weeks.
- Law enforcement officials believe their deaths are linked to an unsolved November killing.
- The spree has put the city’s Muslim community on edge.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain moved to New Mexico from Pakistan in 2017, three years after his older brother made a home there.
Their father, who remained in Pakistan with his other children, feared for the safety of his Muslim sons in the United States, but they found community, and the younger Hussain immediately found success — first at college, and then at work — his older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, told Insider.
That all changed on August 1, when 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain stepped outside of their apartment and was fatally shot. He is among a string of four Muslim men law enforcement say were recently “ambushed” and killed in Albuquerque.
Afzaal Hussain was killed in the same three-week span as Aftab Hussein, 41, and Naeem Hussain, 25.
Law enforcement officials are investigating the killings and the unsolved murder of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, in November.
The Albuquerque Police Department said in a statement Saturday that investigators believe all four recent deaths are connected.
The killings have sparked fear among Muslims of South Asian descent in the city.
“What should we do? We’re trying to find a safe place,” Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain told Insider. “I’m afraid for my safety and for my kids. My dad is very worried and calling us to ‘please come back.'”
Aneela Abad, general secretary of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said it’s especially unsettling how the three recent killings are being connected to Ahmadi’s shooting nearly a year ago.
“We’re shocked that somebody who lives here locally, they can lie low and just reappear all of a sudden and there’s three shootings in a row,” Abad said.
Dreaming of the future
Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain said he and his brother had moved to the US to create better lives for themselves and their future families.
Being 12 years older, Imtiaz Hussain said he took on the role of a guardian once they were reunited in the US and was proud of how ambitious his brother was.
At the University of New Mexico, where he got his graduate degree, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain led a student union organization, his brother said.
He loved horseback riding, cricket, camping, and hiking, and he would frequently take his niece and nephews with him on outings.
His passionate for politics led him to want to one day run for Congress.
“He loved to be with people, raising voices of the people, voices of the unheard,” Imtiaz Hussain said.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain most recently worked as a city planner for the City of Espanola, about an hour an a half north of Albuquerque, and he was excited about the future.
He was planning to move into a 100-acre ranch property there and was already thinking about getting married and raising his future children on the land, his brother said.
“He said, ‘Now I have a house and I want to raise a family here, surrounded by apple trees,'” Imtiaz Hussain said, quoting his brother. “I can keep sheep and goats and I can have chickens all around. I can have bonfires with my friends.'”
Imtiaz Hussain said his brother was staying with him through the summer so he could spend time with his niece and nephews while they were out of school and that he was killed as he was in the process of moving his belongings to his new home.
Imtiaz Hussain didn’t tell his children about the killing right away, and for the first few days he had them stay with friends and family because he feared for their safety and didn’t want them to see him grieve.
Eventually, he had to answer their questions.
“Now they know and they were crying, ‘who will take us camping? Who will go with us fishing? We don’t have our uncle,'” Imtiaz Hussain said.
He also couldn’t bare to tell their father, who he said has heart failure and is weak.
“A few days passed, then a cousin told him something happened. How could we hide it?” he said. “He collapsed and he’s very angry.”
Imtiaz Hussain said he didn’t send his brother’s body back to Pakistan because it was so destroyed in the shooting.
Family members hope to visit the burial site in New Mexico.
“We WILL find them”
Police on Sunday released a photo of a grey sedan they believe is connected to the killing. It appears to be a Volkswagon Jetta.
—Albuquerque Police Department (@ABQPOLICE) August 7, 2022
While police believe the killngs are connected and say all four victims attended the Islamic Center of New Mexico, Imtiaz Hussain said his brother only worshiped there about once a month. He worked in a different city and didn’t know the other victims, according to Imtiaz Hussain.
“He was ambushed. The way he was killed was so brutal,” he said. “We couldn’t put his head together.”
Imtiaz Hussain said the Muslim community in Albuquerque is now living in fear and some people aren’t leaving their homes or going to work because they fear they will be murdered.
His father is adamant that he and his family move back to Pakistan.
“He says, “Look with the American dream, you’re losing life,'” he said.
Imtiaz Hussain, though, said he’s never before been afraid in Albuquerque or experienced any hate from the community.
FBI crime stats indicate that there was one crime motivated by anti-Islam hate in 2020, which is the most recent publically available data.
Between the years of 2010 and 2020, there were 16 anti-Islam hate incidents there, according to the data, which is self-reported by local agencies and can be incomplete.
Abad, the general secretary of the Albuquerque Islamic center, said that the community hasn’t had many problems with hate crimes. Other than the recent string of killings, she said the only thing of note was a “crazy, psycho woman” who tried to set the Islamic center on fire last year.
“We have never dealt with anything like this,” Abad said of the four shootings. “We never saw any sign, any threat, anything suspicious. It’s caught us off guard and the whole community is in shock.”
President Joe Biden said that he was “angered and saddened” by the killings in a tweet on Sunday.
“These hateful attacks have no place in America,” Biden wrote on Twitter.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also said on Saturday that she would send additional state police to Albuquerque.
“We will not stop in our pursuit of justice for the victims and their families and are bringing every resource to bear to apprehend the killer or killers — and we WILL find them,” she said.