Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain is afraid to go outside his house in Albuquerque to water his plants. Or retrieve books from his car. Or even go out on his balcony.
“My children won’t let me go out of my apartment,” Mr. Hussain, 41, was gunned down by his younger brother Muhammad Afzal Hussain, 27, a week ago Monday, a few blocks away. He was one Four Muslim men The killings in the city are recent – three in the past two weeks – and officials believe the deaths are linked to targeting of the Muslim community.
The latest victim, a Muslim man in his mid-20s from South Asia whose name has not been released by police, was killed shortly before midnight on Friday. Another person, Aftab Hussain, 41, was shot dead on July 26. Authorities say the three killings may be related to the November 2021 slaying of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, outside a business he and his brother ran.
Albuquerque police, the FBI and state police are asking for the public’s help in finding the killer or killers — who Sunday officials described as the vehicle of interest, a dark-colored, four-door Volkswagen sedan — in the attacks that left Muslims behind. A terrible situation.
A member who attended the Islamic Center of New Mexico said he would never return, citing fear that the four victims would be “baited” at the same mosque.
Other members have temporarily left the state to stay with family members in other parts of the country to await trial. An immigrant from Iraq said he felt safe when he first arrived in the country in the 1980s. Salem Ansari, another member, said that some people who used to go to the mosque and work night shifts quit their jobs.
“This situation is getting worse,” said Mr. Ansari said.
Ahmad Azed, the mosque’s leader, said he grew up attending the Islamic Center in Albuquerque but never felt isolated as a Muslim in the city. But now, he said, society is going through a “managed panic.”
Elder Mr. Hussain said he moved to America with his wife and children and lived safely in his neighborhood for eight years. His brother Muhammad arrived in 2017, and the two would go to the library at midnight or buy coffees late into the evening while studying as international students at the University of New Mexico.
“Now, I looked out the window and said, ‘Oh, this is where my brother was killed. Should we move?'”
Mr. Hussain said he had originally hoped to send his brother’s body to be buried with his family in Pakistan, but multiple gunshot wounds made his brother unrecognizable, Mr. Hussain also said that his family did not want to see him. The killer “wanted to finish him off — the whole nine yards,” he said.
In general, hate crimes against Muslims in the US are on a downward trend. Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice at California State University in San Bernardino and director of the school’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said the number of hate crimes against Muslims in 2020 was the lowest in 9 years. /11, though those numbers may be skewed due to pandemic restrictions, he said.
But he said hate crimes remain a concern: They rose more than 20 percent in 2021, and another 4.7 percent in the first half of 2022, according to the center. And, according to Professor Levin’s research, “the basis of anti-Muslim sentiment” is widespread and resurfaces in times of national hardship.
Officials said they refrain from using the word “hate” in labeling crimes until a motive is established.
Last year, the Islamic center faced an arson attempt by a woman who police say set three fires in the mosque’s playground and one at the mosque’s main entrance. No one was injured and the woman was arrested and charged with arson. The case is pending.
The Islamic Center has advised its roughly 2,500 members to stay at home as much as possible, use the “buddy system” when going out and avoid “engaging or agitating” with anyone, Mr. Asset said.
He said he still feels supported by other communities, but even this time he feels a sense of “hopelessness and despair.”
“I watch my back and get in the car. I am taking care of all my surroundings,” he said. “You don’t know if they are following you from the mosque, if they are actually seeing you going in and out of the mosque and following them somewhere else. I don’t know how.”
Some community members have expressed frustration at the lack of details from the police investigation, but Mr. Azed said he was in touch with the authorities and understood why they were keeping a lid on any development. Authorities have not elaborated on why they believe the murders are related or indicated if there are any witnesses.
He said that he wanted the central and state governments to provide as much resources as possible to catch the killer. Hussain said.
But until someone is caught, nothing is likely to ease his fear — or his grief.
“My 5-year-old was like, ‘Hey, where’s my uncle?’ He keeps asking. “She saw me crying and said, ‘Are you crying? Why are you crying?’ But can’t tell her. Not yet.”
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