On Friday afternoon, Naeem Hussain attended the funeral service for two Muslim men who were killed in the past two weeks. He joined other mourners afterward, sharing a meal, at the Islamic Center of New Mexico. Then he left.
Several hours later, a little before midnight, Naeem Hussain was shot to death in a parking lot of an organization that offers services for refugees and asylum seekers near San Mateo and Copper NE, according to the Islamic Center’s spokesman.
His death was the latest in what police suspect is a string of homicides targeting Muslim men based on their race and religion.
“Now, people are beginning to panic,” said Tahir Gauba, the director of public affairs with the Islamic Center of New Mexico, who added that he had been fielding phone calls all day about the death.
The two men who were buried Friday — 41-year-old Aftab Hussein and 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain — were shot near their homes on July 26 and Aug. 1, respectively. Police say they were ambushed.
On Saturday, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman said the recent homicides have led detectives to try to determine whether the Nov. 7 fatal shooting of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, is also related. Ahmadi was killed behind a halal market he owned with his brother. An APD official had previously said that there was a “strong possibility” that all three of the prior homicides were related.
Gauba said the Muslim community — especially the student population who live near the area where two most recent shootings happened — is feeling very afraid. He said Naeem Hussain is from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Right now it is really tough to deal with it,” Gauba said. “I mean especially right after the funeral, the same day, that thing happened again. So it’s just really crazy.”
Every possible resource
At a hastily-convened news conference at APD headquarters Saturday afternoon, leaders from local law enforcement and the city denounced the violence and assured the community that they are working together and devoting every possible resource to the investigation.
Translators speaking Arabic, Farsi, Dari and Urdu translated remarks from the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.
“We urge our entire interfaith community of Albuquerque and all the people of Albuquerque to help law enforcement identify and catch the person or persons responsible,” said Michelle Melendez, the office’s director. “Please, please, call with any bit of information.”
Police Chief Harold Medina — who addressed reporters via zoom because he is in isolation with COVID-19 — said the department is working closely with the FBI. The New Mexico State Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service are also assisting.
“On top of our investigations into this murder, we’re devoting resources to key patrol areas and neighborhoods within Albuquerque,” Medina said. “We lifted overtime caps for our officers so that we could utilize several of our specialized units to help ensure the strong presence of Albuquerque officers to keep the community safe.”
Deputy Chief Josh Brown, with APD’s Field Services Bureau, said the department consulted with its partners in the Muslim community to determine what they need and where they’re most vulnerable when deciding where to put its resources.
“We’re going to have multiple command posts stationed throughout key areas in the city,” Brown said. “This will allow people who … if they see something, and don’t have immediate access to phone or communication to stop by, drop off tips, talk to law enforcement officers who are there and available in the area.”
On Saturday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she will send additional State Police to Albuquerque to patrol and work with APD and the FBI.
“I am angered and saddened that this is happening in New Mexico, a place that prides itself on diversity of culture and thought. This is not who we are,” Lujan Grisham said. “We will not stop in our pursuit of justice for the victims and their families and are bringing every resource to bear to apprehend the killer or killers — and we WILL find them.”
APD has increased the priority for calls involving the Muslim community, Medina said, and he urged Muslims to be especially vigilant and watch out for one another.
“Let individuals know when you’re coming in and out, make it very obvious that others are watching when you’re leaving your car to your house…,” Medina said. “I think it’s important to let everybody know that we’re all watching out for one another.”
‘A really kind person’
By mid-day Saturday the intersection of Truman and Grand NE was quiet.
The only sign of the overnight violence that remained was shattered glass from Naeem Hussain’s car windows in the parking lot of Lutheran Family Services.
A friend of Naeem Hussain told the Journal she met him about six years ago through the organization. She said he used to work with the program and had a meeting there Friday night.
She said she had been told that Naeem Hussain, who police say was in his mid-20s, became a U.S. citizen just two weeks ago.
“He was a really kind person and no reason for someone to kill him like this,” she said. “It’s just unexpected, what happened. This is really heartbreaking for the families.”
Gauba, with the Islamic Center of New Mexico, said Naeem Hussain was on the phone with his fiancée, who lives in Virginia, when he was shot.
“She heard the gunshot I think and she freaked out,” Gauba said. “So he didn’t respond after that, so she called one of his friends. His friend went over there and his friend is the one who called 911.”