Police Question Man in Killing of Muslim Cleric in NY

NEW YORK (Reuters) -
A police vehicle is parked across the street from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, in the Ozone Park section of the Queens borough of New York. The leader of the mosque, Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and an associate, Tharam Uddin, 64, were fatally shot as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. (AP Photo/Mike Balsamo)
A police vehicle is parked across the street from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque, Sunday, in the Ozone Park section of the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mike Balsamo)

New York City police said on Monday they were questioning a man in the killing of a Muslim cleric and his associate as they left prayers at a mosque in the borough of Queens, a crime that shocked their Bangladeshi community.

The man was detained on unrelated circumstances and has not been charged in the killings, a police spokesman said. Earlier, local media, including NBC News and the New York Daily News, said the man was a suspect, citing unnamed police sources.

Police have yet to establish a motive behind Saturday’s murders and have said there was no evidence the men were targeted because of their faith but nothing was being ruled out. Residents demanded authorities treat the brazen daylight shooting as a hate crime.

Police released a sketch of a male suspect with dark hair, a beard, glasses and of medium complexion. He appeared to be in his 30s or 40s. NBC reported the man being questioned matched the description.

The shooting appeared to be the most violent attack against local Muslim leaders in recent years, said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights and advocacy group.

A report in June by CAIR and the University of California at Berkeley said the number of recorded incidents in which mosques were targeted jumped to 78 in 2015, the most since the group began tracking them in 2009.

Hooper said he could recall incidents in which an imam was pushed, called names or otherwise harassed. “Things like that, but nothing of this nature, nothing where people were killed,” he said.

CAIR offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter.

Witnesses saw the assailant, dressed in a dark shirt and blue shorts, fleeing with a gun in his hand, police said. Surveillance footage showed the suspect following the victims.

Mohammed Ahmed, 22, who works at his father’s corner store on Liberty Avenue just two blocks from the shooting, said he heard the shots while he was at work.

“It makes all the Muslims scared,” he said. “Last time someone got shot in this neighborhood that I know of was probably 2001.”