Police in New York City have taken an unnamed suspect into custody in connection with Saturday’s murder of a Queens imam and his assistant.
The New York Daily News and New York’s WPIX-TV both reported that police took a man into custody on Sunday night and are holding him for questioning regarding the slaying of the two Bangladeshi Muslim men who were shot and killed after afternoon prayer services.
The suspected gunman reportedly struck a bicyclist with his car as he hurriedly fled the scene. The cyclist copied down the man’s license plate number and handed it over to police. The NYPD Regional Fugitive Task Force had been reportedly tracking the man ever since and took him into custody after a “brief surveillance” in which the suspect tried to flee and ended up ramming an unmarked police vehicle.
Investigators were questioning the man Monday morning and trying to get a warrant to search his home, the Daily News said, but police have not issued an official statement.
Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 65, were walking up Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park at around 1:50 Saturday afternoon when the killer walked up behind the two men and shot both in the head at close range. Akonjee was pronounced dead upon arrival at Jamaica Hospital. Uddin died of his wounds not long after.
Video of the incident surfaced online on Sunday, which sources told the Daily News had the look of a professional execution-style hit.
“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?” said one police source.
“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 continued. Police noted that one of the victims was carrying several hundred dollars in cash, which the gunman seemed uninterested in, ruling out robbery as a motive.
Rumors are circulating that the gunman is Hispanic and that the murders are part of ongoing tensions between Latinos and Muslims in the racially diverse community of Queens.
Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement on Sunday that said, “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. 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.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Twitter, “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. The perpetrators of this heinous crime will be found, and justice will be served.”