A 35-year-old man has been charged in the brazen daylight shooting of Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and aide Thara Uddin, 64, in South Ozone Park, New York. Oscar Morel was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the shocking case, according to the New York Post.
Morel’s brother Alvin said that in the aftermath of 9/11, he and his brother hated Muslims, explaining, “We felt that same anger. We all had a hatred.”
His brother said that despite his initial anger, it was only temporary, and Oscar Morel did not have any ill will towards Muslims.
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) August 16, 2016
On August 13, the imam and his assistant were on the street near their mosque in Queens. Shortly before 2 p.m., police found the men, who had both been shot in the head, and they were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where they died. The two men had just left a prayer session at the mosque when the attack took place.
The murders of the imam and his assistant come at a time when anti-Muslim hostility has been popping up all over the country, egged on by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslim’s from entering the country. While community members immediately called this a hate crime, New York City police were quick to point out that the motive was not yet known. They did confirm that the two men appeared to have been targeted, and that they had over $1,000 in cash on them at the time of the shooting, so robbery didn’t seem likely, according to the New York Times.
A few hundred members of the mosque and the community gathered near the area of the shooting to demand justice for the imam’s senseless murder. The New York Daily News reports that after protesting, the crowd made their way to a nearby mosque, where a press conference was held. The group was insistent that this is a hate crime and should be treated as such.
Witnesses saw the shooter holding the gun, and security camera footage captured images of the shooter following the imam and his assistant before catching him running away from the scene with a gun in his hand. The video is grainy, and from a distance, you can clearly see that the shooter targeted the two men.
Oscar Morel may have gotten himself caught in the murders of the imam and his assistant. The New York Daily News reports that the shooter hit a bicyclist with his car in his attempt to get away from the scene. The man took down the vehicle’s license plate number and gave it to police, who then used it to begin tracking the car.
Imam Akonjee, who moved to the United States in 2011 and leaves behind his wife and seven children, was described as the heart of their mosque and community. According to the New York Times, his sermon the day before he died was about how Islam should be a force for peace in the face of discrimination and how the oppressed should gain strength from God and one another.
His life in Bangladesh was centered around his education and his family. He obtained a graduate degree and was the founding principal of an Islamic school built on land donated by local villagers. Akonjee later helped to broker peace between the Sunni and Wahhabi members of a mosque within the local railway department.
— ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress) August 16, 2016
Think Progress reports that in a show of solidarity, non-Muslim’s started using the hashtag #IllWalkWithYou, offering to walk to and from a mosque with Muslim’s who may be afraid. While police have the suspect in custody for the murder of the imam and his closest friend, no motive has been determined. They believe they located the weapon used in the shooting, as well as the clothes that he wore, in his home, but they have not been able to determine if there was any link between the man and the two murder victims.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]