ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Police in New Mexico’s largest city are trying to determine if the ambush shooting deaths of three Muslim men over the past nine months could be connected.
Albuquerque police have confirmed that local detectives and federal law enforcement officers are looking for possible ties among the separate crimes. Two of the men — Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41 — were killed in the past week, and both were from Pakistan and members of the same mosque. The third case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, a Muslim man of South Asian descent.
Deputy Police Commander Kyle Hartsock wouldn't share specifics, but he said the commonality among the victims is race and religion.
“We are taking this very seriously. We want the public’s help in identifying this cowardly individual,” Hartsock said during a news conference Thursday in front of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.
The governor, Albuquerque’s mayor and civil rights groups have raised concerns, saying violence against members of the community based on race or religion will not be tolerated.
Hartsock reiterated that authorities can’t say yet if the shootings were hate crimes until they have identified a suspect and can determine a motive.
The killings came as Albuquerque is on pace for another record-setting year of homicides.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Friday offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the shooting deaths. The council is the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
“If a bias-motive is determined, state and federal authorities should apply appropriate hate crime charges,” said Nihad Awad, the director of the national group.
The two most recent killings were in southeast Albuquerque. Ahmadi was killed behind the market and cafe he owned with his brother.
"In all three cases, the victims were ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed,” Hartsock said.
Ahmad Assed, the president of Islamic Center of New Mexico, said he didn’t believe the three victims knew one another, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
“The community certainly is in need of understanding the egregiousness of the conduct displayed in all three of theses shootings,” Assed said at a news conference. “If it’s true that we were targeted as Muslims, then they need to be very vigilant in protecting themselves and taking measures of precaution. They need to watch out for their surroundings.”