A suspect in police custody has been charged in the execution-style killings of a Muslim imam and his associate in New York City over the weekend.
The suspect, 35-year-old Oscar Morel of Brooklyn, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64.
Akonjee and Uddin were shot in the head at close range after leaving Saturday prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens.
Morel was also charged with two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
He was arrested earlier Monday on charges related to a hit-and-run traffic accident on the day of the murders, police officials said.
Robert Boyce, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, told a news conference on Monday that surveillance video showed the suspect getting into a black GMC sport utility vehicle after the shootings.
That vehicle was then involved in a hit-and-run three miles away in Brooklyn shortly afterward. After officers located the SUV, the suspect rammed a detective’s car several times in an attempt to escape, but was arrested, Boyce said.
“Motive right now has not been determined. We’re still drilling down,” he said. Asked if it was being considered a hate crime, Boyce said that is “still certainly on the table.”
“It’s possible it’s a hate crime, or some other motive,” he told the news conference.
Police say the two men were attacked from behind and were not robbed, leading many to conclude that the shooting was motivated by their race or religion.
“Two people just got murdered and NYPD saying this might not be a hate crime. I would like to ask NYPD, what is it then? Come on. Somebody comes from behind and shoot you for no reason — imam and his assistant?” Muhammad Ali, a mourner at a memorial service for the men on Monday, told CBS New York. “Come on, this is common sense.”
When police approached his home in East New York, the suspect evaded officers in a vehicle and struck a police car in the process.
“He rammed the detectives’ car several times in an effort to get away. He was placed under arrest without any further incident,” Boyce said.
Police officials obtained warrants from the Queens district attorney on Monday to gain access to the suspect’s home and his car to find any possible ties to the slayings.
Asked about Morel’s employment, Boyce said the suspect is believed to have worked at a warehouse in Brooklyn.
Akonjee, 55, was a devout and humble preacher beloved by the area’s Bangladeshi Muslim community, according to those who knew him. Many locals wondered what could have prompted his killing.
A father of seven, Akonjee emigrated to the United States from Bangladesh several years ago, said Badrul Khan, the founder of the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque. He described the slain imam as a man who lived and breathed his religious faith.