Muhammad Afzaal Hussain’s dream began to come true in New Mexico.
The 27-year-old rising political star, who left Pakistan for the US in 2017, is working to get her green card and is preparing to move into a beautiful farmhouse surrounded by apple trees. For about a year, Afzaal worked for the city of Española’s planning department, which helped arrange his new housing, so he wouldn’t need to keep commuting from his Albuquerque apartment. The drive is 90 minutes each way.
But on Monday night, August 1, Afzaal was shot dead outside his apartment complex from the University of New Mexico, where he attended graduate school and made friends easily. His brother, Imtiaz, said he stepped outside to take a phone call before someone ambushed him with bullets.
“What was the motive of the person who shot that?” Imtiaz told The Daily Beast in an interview. “What created that kind of hatred towards him? That’s a big question that I want answered.”
It’s a question Albuquerque police and the FBI are also exploring as they investigate the deaths of two other Muslim men who have died in similar ambush-style attacks over the past several weeks and whose murder has yet to be confirmed. is the settlement of a fourth Muslim man who was killed last fall.
Police say that on July 26, 41 years old Aftab Hussein was killed in the parking lot of his apartment complex.
And on August 5, Naeem Hussain was shot dead just before midnight—a few hours after attending the funeral for Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein. According to a report in Albuquerque magazineThe body of 25-year-old Naeem, who became a US citizen two weeks before his death, was found in the parking lot of the Lutheran Family Service.
A fourth victim, Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was also killed in November 2021 outside a market and cafe he ran with his brother.
Authorities believe all four deaths may be related and that the same person, or multiple people, may be responsible for this senseless bloodshed. “While we won’t go into all the specifics of why we think so, there is one strong thing in common with all victims: race and religion,” Deputy Albuquerque Police Department (APD) commander Kyle Hartsock said last week.
The APD said it was too early to classify these killings as hate crimes, but Imtiaz Hussain believes his brother was targeted because he was Muslim. He pointed out the last names of other recent victims: Hussein and Hussain. Imtiaz wondered if the gunman looked through the phone book for certain surnames before shooting them for 11 days.
From Imtiaz’s conversations with neighbors and the medical examiner, he believes his brother was shot on a street corner down the block from his apartment, and he tried to flee. the attacker. Imtiaz said: “He was shot several times in the head. “He died on the spot.” According to Imtiaz, a neighbor saw a gray sedan drive past, although they could not name the make or model.
“This shows the type of hatred against him using two weapons — a shotgun and a rifle. Who has the utmost hatred for my brother, who is loved by everyone.” Imtiaz asked.
Imtiaz said that when he went to identify his brother’s body, the medical examiner told him two weapons had been used. (The Office of the Medical Investigator referred questions to APD, which did not return messages from The Daily Beast.)
Still, Imtiaz and other Muslim residents told The Daily Beast they’ve always felt safe and welcome in Albuquerque — or at least, until recently. “Albuquerque is a land of peace,” he said. “This land of diversity. This place is welcoming to all communities, and to all people of different colors and nationalities.”
“Those who took my brother’s life do not represent the majority. They are 0.01 percent of the people in society”.
The killing spree has clearly shaken Albuquerque, especially members of the Muslim community, who told The Daily Beast they are staying at home indefinitely or at least avoiding going out at night. If they leave the house, they will look over their shoulder, keeping an awareness of their surroundings.
The horror was enough that the New Mexico Islamic Center – the city’s largest mosque and attended by all four victims – hired armed security guards for five daily prayers and phone calls. from members worried about whether it is safe to travel. Some members have also reported suspicious activity and fear they are being tracked or followed.
Ahmad Assed, president of the New Mexico Islamic Center, said recent violence against Muslims – starting with a convicted arsonist that attempted to burn down his mosque last year – was unprecedented. ever had. Prior to these crimes, he said his community had never been attacked in Albuquerque or anywhere in New Mexico.
Assed said: “It’s a friendly community, everyone gets along well here. “This hate is completely new and not New Mexico, from its four corners to everywhere in between.”
Now, however, he says his community is living in fear. Even those who are not friends or family of the dead are afraid to attend prayers, go to the grocery store, or even stay at the window of their home. Assed said: “We changed everything about the way we lived. “Some have left the state entirely until this is complete. There was a sense of bewilderment, hopelessness and fear that pervaded the entire community. “
Aneela Abad, the mosque’s general secretary, called the shooting “shocking” and said the victims were killed “brutally, without notice or any warning.” She told The Daily Beast that the center is inundated with calls from community members, college students and staff seeking guidance. “At least a few of them reported that they felt like they were being followed, or that they saw some vehicle they hadn’t seen before, just stood outside for a few minutes when they arrived at the facility, and then they leave,” Abad said.
According to Abad, two Muslim women reported that a motorcyclist followed them after they left Wal-Mart. The women told her that the cyclist waited a short while when they arrived at their apartment complex. “He was there for about 30 seconds, and then he left,” Abad said, adding that the encounter was reported to the APD.
On Tuesday evening, the center was holding an interfaith “community prayer” for the victims, and Abad said authorities and newly hired security guards would be present.
She said that at first, when Ahmadi was killed in November, the community believed it was an isolated incident. “But then, what is more surprising is, some of the people here locally, were able to lie still during this time, from November to now. And then suddenly… this second, third and fourth shooting happened,” she said.
A friend of Afzaal, a college student who asked not to be named, said they saw a fleet of police cars outside Afzaal’s apartment the night he was found dead. The man lived a few blocks from Afzaal and was only later informed that his friend had disappeared.
“No one comes out of their house, even if they need to get something,” the friend told The Daily Beast. “When they do, they always look around. Is this person looking at you? Follow you? You always look behind you to see if you are being followed. It’s very scary.”
This student said that their friends emailed their academic supervisor, informing them that they didn’t want to go to the lab to work because most of them walk to school. “You are a sitting duck for anyone who wants to harm you,” the person said, adding that they wish the university would take more steps to protect international students.
“When fear hits with such a blow, you start to speculate and start to fear everything you see,” they say. “And I encourage people around me to report anything, even if they think it’s insignificant. Better than losing your life.”
Imtiaz, who has lived in New Mexico for nine years, feels safe enough to jog at night or go for a walk with Afzaal to the university library.
“In Albuquerque, we felt that the city was ours. You belong to this city. And we want to raise our kids here,” he said. “But when this happened, all my brother’s dreams… everything fell apart.”
Imtiaz added that Afzaal enjoys living in New Mexico, taking Imtiaz’s children swimming and camping, and says he wants to raise a family of his own there someday. He has also worked for the campaign of US Representative Melanie Stansbury and has aspirations for higher office.
“He has a passion for integrating into this culture, getting involved in politics and giving a voice to those who don’t listen and speaking up for the marginalized and those who don’t,” says Imtiaz. poor people in society.
“I would like to ask the FBI and all other investigative agencies, please do not let this case end up in all the folders and archives of detective offices unsolved. We want the solution and we want the result in this case. We want to know who wanted to take my brother’s life and why. “