A man suspected of killing at least two Muslim men in New Mexico in recent months is believed to have targeted the victims over an “interpersonal conflict,” authorities said Tuesday.
The suspect, Muhammad Syed, 51, was arrested Monday after a tipster contacted authorities, Albuquerque Police Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock told reporters.
Syed is accused of the July 26 and Aug. 1 murders of Aftab Hussein, 41, and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, Hartsock said.
He is a suspect in the Aug. 5 killing of Naeem Hussain, 25, and the Nov. 7 slaying of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, but authorities are still investigating those cases, Hartsock said.
Hartsock declined to elaborate on a potential motive. In a news release, the department said the victims knew Syed “to some extent, and an interpersonal conflict” may have led to the shootings.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez said murder charges are expected in the case.
Syed was taken into custody after authorities secured a search warrant for his home, Hartsock said. He was seen getting into the same car — a gray Volkswagen Jetta — linked to at least one of the killings.
Authorities followed him to Santa Rosa, more than 100 miles east of Albuquerque, and pulled him over, Hartsock said. Syed was arrested without incident.
At Syed's home, authorities found multiple guns, including one that authorities think was used in the fatal shootings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.
Syed is believed to have come to the United States from Afghanistan in recent years, Hartsock said. His immigration status was unclear.
Hartsock said Syed had been arrested for a few misdemeanors in Albuquerque, but he could not provide additional details.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said it's believed that "members of the Shia community" have been targets of this violence.
“We welcome the arrest of a suspect in this horrific shooting spree and we commend law enforcement for their efforts at the local, state and federal levels. We hope the news that this violence has been brought to an end will provide the New Mexico Muslim community some sense of relief and security," Awad said in a statement Tuesday night.
“Although we are waiting to learn more about these crimes, we are disturbed by early indications that the alleged killer may have been targeting particular members of the Shia community. If this is true, it is completely unacceptable, and we encourage law enforcement to file any appropriate hate crime charges against the suspect.”
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he hoped Monday's arrest would bring a “sense of safety back to the Muslim community.”
“This crime made our community feel like it was under attack,” he said at a news conference.
The most recent slaying happened just before midnight Friday on the edge of a community known as the International District, southeast of downtown, police said.
Naeem Hussain was identified as the victim.
Minutes after police announced the arrest, Ehsan Shahalami, Hussain’s brother-in-law, expressed hope that only one person was responsible for the bloodshed.
“We are hopeful that this is going to be the end to this murder spree and that everybody else will be safe,” said Shahalami, 37, who lives in Virginia. “I’m hoping that it’s just one person, not multiple people involved.”
The first attack that could be connected to the violence happened Nov. 7 when Mohammad Ahmadi was found dead behind the halal meat business he ran with his brother.
The two other homicides were the killing of Pakistani immigrant Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain near the University of New Mexico, authorities said.
Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said he hopes life can go back to normal with this week's arrest.
“I’m glad the suspect was arrested," the grieving sibling said. "We feel relieved. We can now take our kids to parks. We can go shopping. We no longer feel that fear."