A Muslim immigrant from Afghanistan has been arrested as the prime suspect in the serial killings of four Muslim men that rattled the Islamic community of New Mexico’s largest city, police said on Tuesday.
After days bolstering security around Albuquerque-area mosques, seeking to allay fears of a shooter driven by anti-Muslim hate, police said on Tuesday they had arrested 51-year-old Muhammad Syed, one among the city’s Islamic immigrant community.
Authorities said the killings may have been rooted in a personal grudge, possibly with intra-Muslim sectarian overtones.
All four victims were of Afghan or Pakistani descent. One was killed in November, and the other three in the last two weeks.
A search of the suspect’s Albuquerque home uncovered “evidence that shows the offender knew the victims to some extent, and an inter-personal conflict may have led to the shootings,” police said in a statement announcing the arrest.
Investigators are still piecing together motives for the killings of the four men, Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock of the Albuquerque Police Department said at a news conference.
In response to reporters’ questions, Hartsock said sectarian animus by the suspect toward his fellow Muslim victims may have played a role in the violence. “But we’re not really clear if that was the actual motive, or if it was part of a motive, or if there is just a bigger picture that we’re missing,” he said.
Syed has a record of criminal misdemeanors in the United States, including a case of domestic violence, over the last three or four years, Hartsock said.
Police credited scores of tips from the public in helping investigators locate a car that detectives believed was used in at least one of the killings and ultimately track down the man they called their “primary suspect” in all four slayings.
Syed was formally charged with two of the homicides: those of Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, killed on July 26 and Aug. 1, respectively, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina told the briefing.