“This is not what Albuquerque is,” says brother of Muslim man killed days ago

Community comes together and waits for more information after suspect is arrested

By: - August 11, 2022 5:00 am

Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, who’s brother Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was killed on Aug. 1, speaks about how these killings do not represent Albuquerque, and how the community and law enforcement came together to locate the suspect. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Shock, relief, solidarity and a sense of concern for what could happen next is on the minds of the Albuquerque community trying to process why the suspect arrested Tuesday would kill four people — if he did what police are indicating he has. 

Muhammad Syed saw a judge Wednesday after having been charged with the deaths of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein. He is also being investigated for the 2021 shooting of Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi and the Aug. 5 killing of Naeem Hussain, whom he told police he knew since 2016.

According to his criminal complaint released Wednesday, Syed also knew Aftab Hussein from community events.

Syed told police after he was detained that he was not involved in the shootings. Investigators also interviewed his son, who said his father did not shoot the victims. Police said Syed, a refugee from Afghanistan, told them during detainment that he fought with special forces there against the Taliban.

Those who have done this hate crime, I believe they are single, they are individual. They do not represent any society here. They do not represent our culture here. They do not represent our norms here. No, sir. They're outliers. They represent hate.

– Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain

A motive is still unclear, and police said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that there was a potential personal dispute in play. Some media reported that it stemmed from cultural conflict.

But that motive was dismissed as a rumor by attorney Ahmad Assed, who spoke on behalf of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.

Assed said his statement published in the New York Times and used to buoy the theory on Monday was inaccurate. NYT’s article was changed after he called their reporters for a correction, which he did while simultaneously coordinating multiple interviews with international and local media during an interfaith event Tuesday evening at the center, located just blocks away from Syed’s home.

“I don’t think anybody had an understanding of any violent reputation,” Ahmad Assed said. “The person I just spoke to literally now said to me, ‘(Syed) was a very nice man. Every time I greet him, he was very nice. And we even broke bread a couple times.’ So that’s kind of the sentiment from people with regards to Mr. Syed and the reputation he has in the community.”

The event was planned before Syed’s arrest was announced earlier in the afternoon, organizer Samia Assed told reporters. She was preparing the space for people from across religious denominations in Albuquerque when she heard the news that police had taken a suspect into custody.

“I’m still in shock. I still have to deal with the ramifications of what that’s going to look like to me in the media,” she said. “But what this event today did was reassure our connections in our bond to one another, as well as the rest of the community.”

Three of the shooting deaths in recent weeks — on July 26, Aug. 1 and Aug. 5 — caused panic that these incidents were were planned or targeted attacks against Muslim men, possibly from a racist or religiously bigoted person.

As police searched for the killer, Samia Assed gave her kids a shorter curfew and said they could visit the mosque until things calm down.

“We just became very paranoid but very vigilant,” she said. “Some Muslims left town, and, you know, it was tough,” she said.

The arrest calmed some anxieties but created others due to the personal connections of everyone involved.

“I know some of the victims, which was really hard to accept,” Samia Assed told Source NM.

On the day he died, Naeem Hussain mourned at the mosque for Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein, the two people Syed is now accused of killing. He stayed to visit with and to find out any information he could. Hussain was shot shortly afterward that evening.

“I went across the street to the burial and he was there, he was standing with my kids,” Samia Assed said. “My kids, when the news of his death came, said we were standing right next to him. We came back to the mosque and had food, and apparently he was asking questions about what was going on. And an hour and a half later, he had been killed.”

Samia Assed, who organized this memorial, listens are faith leaders from across Albuquerque preach unity and express their grief at the loss of these four Muslim men. (Photo by Gino Gutierrez for Source NM).

Police would release information over the weekend connecting the shootings to one other in 2021. People in Albuquerque were asked by police for help to solve the case.

Albuquerque, stepped up and searched, sharing info — especially in the group chats between the Muslim community members,

A day after a wanted poster was released with the picture of a Volkswagen Jetta police said was connected to the shooting, hundreds of tips were sent to law enforcement. Syed was seen leaving his home in the vehicle on Monday. Police followed him on Interstate 40 east and eventually stopped him near the small city of Santa Rosa, N.M. Officials say a gun used in one of the shootings was found in the car. One more weapon police said was used in another shooting was found during a search warrant sweep of his home in SE Albuquerque.

Syed wasn’t mentioned during the event at the Islamic Center on Tuesday.

That wasn’t the point.

Religious leaders from all faiths gathered at the Islamic Center of New Mexico Tuesday night to share messages of unity and extend help to the community in anyway possible. (Gino Gutierrez for Source NM)

Samia Assed said she wanted the space to be held for everyone in Albuquerque to heal and to show the commitment from people across all parts of the city to help.

Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain was enthusiastic about the law enforcement effort to make an arrest in connection to his brother’s death just days ago.

“Those who have done this hate crime, I believe they are single, they are individual,” he said. “They do not represent any society here. They do not represent our culture here. They do not represent our norms here. No, sir. They’re outliers. They represent hate.”

Hussain said his brother was embraced by New Mexico, finding the state to be inclusive and open to his ideas as an “immigrant, dark, English as a second language, Pakistani Muslim.”

He said his brother enjoyed walks around his neighborhood in the area just south of the University of New Mexico where he did his graduate study program in community development. Walks to the Frontier Restaurant and shops along Central Avenue were common, even relaxing.

“I spoke to dozens of TV channels and newspapers,” Hussain said. “I repeated one thing, that this is not what Albuquerque is. This kind of incident, we never witnessed in Albuquerque. This is something unusual.”

Now, like everyone else watching this case unfold, he has questions and the expectation that law enforcement will get answers from Syed.

“We are waiting so that APD and FBI could reveal under what motives he did that heinous crime,” Hussain said. “What kind of philosophy has created that extreme angle? That he wanted to take life of an innocent individual, with that extreme brutality? That is what we were waiting for.”

Gino Gutierrez contributed to this story.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.