Federal judge orders Shaheen Syed jailed pending trial - Albuquerque Journal

Federal judge orders Shaheen Syed jailed pending trial

Shaheen Syed as seen in a 2021 Florida Driver’s License. (U.S. District Court)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A judge ordered the son of a man charged in the shootings of Muslim men in Albuquerque held in federal custody while awaiting trial for allegedly providing a false address when he purchased a firearm in 2021.

Shaheen Syed, 21, appeared in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Monday on a federal charge that he falsely reported a Florida address on a federal form when he purchased a military-style rifle.

Federal prosecutors drew on the testimony of two witnesses in an attempt to show coordination between Syed and his father, Muhammad Atif Syed, 51, who is charged with two open counts of murder in the killings of Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Robbenhaar said he was persuaded by prosecutors’ arguments that Shaheen Syed poses a potential flight risk and that his involvement in violent incidents shows he could be a danger to the community.

“He knows that he is a person of interest in a larger homicide investigation that is ongoing,” giving him an incentive to flee, Robbenhaar said. He also noted that Shaheen Syed, an immigrant from Afghanistan, speaks several languages and has family members in other countries.

Robbenhaar said he was particularly disturbed by a Feb. 27 incident in which police were called to the Syed home in response to a report that Syed had struck both his father and 16-year-old sister.

“The last line of the report indicated that he has put his sister in the hospital previously,” Robbenhaar said.

Robbenhaar noted that federal prosecutors had not presented any evidence suggesting that Shaheen Syed had fired gunshots in any of the killings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Brawley responded that the “investigation is continuing” in regard to the involvement of a second shooter.

Shaheen Syed’s attorney, John Anderson, said prosecutors want to detain his client by implicating him in his father’s alleged crimes.

Neither the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged Shaheen Syed and the evidence linking him to the killings “is not overwhelmingly strong,” Anderson said.

Family members of Shaheen Syed in the courtroom Monday declined to comment after the hearing.

Two federal agents offered testimony Monday attempting to show that Shaheen worked with his father to acquire military-style weapons and possibly to coordinate a fatal Aug. 5 shooting.

The father and son together went to an Albuquerque gun store July 15 to pick up two AK-type weapons, said Brenton Hutson, an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special agent. Both weapons later were found by law enforcement officers in the Syed home.

One of those weapons – a Zastava 7.62X39 rifle found under Muhammad Atif Syed’s bed – was shown by firearms testing to be the same weapon used in the July 26 killing of Aftab Hussein, and the Aug. 1 killing of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, prosecutors allege.

Shaheen Syed also accompanied his father to an Albuquerque custom gunsmithing shop where an optical scope was attached to a WASR-10 rifle, Hutson testified. Security video showed that Shaheen Syed carried the rifle into the shop, he said.

The scope work was performed on Aug. 1, about six hours before the shooting death of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, prosecutors allege.

Federal prosecutors have charged Shaheen Syed with listing a false address on a federal form in June 2021 when he purchased a military-style rifle at an Albuquerque gun store.

The younger Syed listed a Hallandale Beach, Florida, address on an ATF “firearms transaction record” required to purchase a firearm from a licensed seller.

Federal investigators learned that the Florida address that Shaheen Syed listed as his residence had been vacant from March 2020 to May 2021 when it was occupied by a Russian couple, Hutson testified.

Under questioning from Anderson, Hutson acknowledged that Shaheen Syed had attended a truck driving school in Florida and obtained a commercial driver’s license issued by the state of Florida.

Anderson argued that the investigation had been “rushed” and that investigators had failed to seek utility bills and other records that may have shown Syed indeed lived in Florida at the time.

“The state of Florida saw fit to issue him a driver’s license,” Anderson said.

Anderson also argued that providing false information on a federal form is a relatively minor nonviolent offense and not one that justifies pretrial detention. Syed also had nothing to gain by lying on a federal form and no motivation do so, Anderson said.

Federal prosecutors also allege cellphone data suggests cooperation between Shaheen Syed and his father on Aug. 5 – the day Naeem Hussain was fatally shot following a memorial service at the Islamic Center of New Mexico for two of the murder victims.

Muhammad Atif Syed

Authorities say Muhammad Syed followed Hussain in his Volkswagen Jetta from the Islamic Center of New Mexico on Yale SE to the Lutheran Family Services in the 200 block of Truman NE where Hussain later was fatally shot in the head and arm.

FBI special agent Sean MacManus testified Monday that at 3:39 p.m. Aug. 5, Shaheen Syed was in the vicinity of the Islamic Center of New Mexico when his cellphone connected to his father’s phone. Hussain left the Islamic Center at 3:41 p.m., MacManus said.

The father and son subsequently had a series of cellphone conversations, each lasting up to 21 seconds, he said.

Prosecutors allege that from 4:04 p.m. to 4:22 p.m., Muhammad Syed’s phone was “located along an arc” that “encompassed the location where Naeem Hussain was murdered,” prosecutors wrote in court records.

At about 4:14 p.m., the cellphones of both father and son “were located in the general area of the murder,” prosecutors allege.

Anderson responded in a motion that prosecutors provide no indication of the “general area” in terms of distance. “Does it mean that (Shaheen) was within 100 yards of the murder scene, or five miles?”

Anderson chose not to question MacManus on Monday.

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