Motive Unclear In Killing Of Imam And Aide In New York
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In New York City, the Muslim community is worried. People want answers about the fatal shooting of a local imam and his assistant. A suspect has been arrested and charged, but as NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports, police have not announced a motive.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: It's been almost a week of mourning for the families of Imam Maulama Akonjee and his associate Thara Uddin, including Uddin's sister-in-law Afia.
AFIA UDDIN: Our family is still deeply saddened, and we hope that the authorities are able to bring the murderer to justice.
WANG: The Imam's son-in-law Momin Ahmed says they still want to know the motive.
MOMIN AHMED: They caught him. We're kind of happy a little bit, but we want to know what's the main reason for killing the two person.
WANG: Both the imam and his assistant were shot in the backs of their heads as they left their mosque in Queens on Saturday. Oscar Morel, a 36-year-old man from Brooklyn, has been charged with five criminal counts, including first degree murder. But local Muslim leaders say they want prosecutors to charge these deaths as a hate crime. Here's Debbie Almontaser of the Muslim Community Network.
DEBBIE ALMONTASER: They are by product of a growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment fueled largely by the bigoted rhetoric and fear mongering emanating from the current presidential election campaigns.
WANG: If convicted, Morel faces up to life in prison without parole. A hate crime charge would not make his sentence any harsher, says former Manhattan prosecutor Mark Bederow.
MARK BEDEROW: There's nothing to add to the sentence. It just doesn't make sense given the strong case for first degree murder that they appear to have here.
WANG: Bederow says it's hard to prove a person's motive for a hate crime and says adding one could complicate the prosecutor's trial strategy. Michael Fanning once served as a detective sergeant on the NYPD's Hate Crimes Task Force. He says there can be consequences for not charging a hate crime when a specific community feels like it's being attacked on purpose.
MICHAEL FANNING: And that's very dangerous because it starts to eat away at the fabric of society, and we all need to be able to feel safe.
WANG: That's a concern now for many in New York's Muslim community who are calling for more surveillance cameras, including the slain Imam's son-in-law Momin Ahmed.
AHMED: They need to put every corner surveillance cameras and so that way, these kids can be saved. The elders can be saved - anybody walk by, no matter what culture they are.
WANG: But some Muslim leaders like Debbie Almontaser are wary of calling for more surveillance.
ALMONTASER: It's coming from a place of fear. And once we allay that fear, they will understand that we don't need surveillance cameras as we've had in the past.
WANG: Almontaser says she is grateful for more police patrols around mosques but says the long-term solution may lie in self-protection. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.