Man charged with murder of New York imam and friend

A sketch of accused killer Oscar Morel on display outside a mosque in Queens, New York, near the scene of the murders. The brutal slaying has sent shockwaves through Muslim communities in the US.
A sketch of accused killer Oscar Morel on display outside a mosque in Queens, New York, near the scene of the murders. The brutal slaying has sent shockwaves through Muslim communities in the US.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • A suspect has been charged with the double murder of a New York imam and his friend.

Oscar Morel, 35, from Brooklyn, was charged on Monday with two counts of murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, said police.

The brutal slaying has sent shockwaves through America's Muslim communities. Fearful Muslim New Yorkers have demanded that police step up security and deliver justice as hundreds of mourners attended the two men's funeral service in the borough of Queens.

Mr Maulama Akonjee, 55, who migrated to the United States from Bangladesh, and his friend, 64-year-old Thara Uddin, were shot dead on Saturday afternoon in the Ozone Park neighbourhood.

Morel was taken into custody on Sunday. He was then charged with a hit-and-run accident that occurred about 5km away from the double murder, as well as the assault of a police officer. The murder charges were added later after police found a gun and clothing from his house that were similar to those believed to be used by the shooter.

Police said Morel was from a troubled area in Brooklyn and was believed to be a warehouse worker.

The authorities had earlier said hate crime was being investigated as a possible motive - as demanded by Muslim elders. Police sources said the killer may have been settling a score in a feud between Muslims and Hispanics but these suggestions have been dismissed by members of the Muslim community.

Community leaders, who appeared to be rattled by the rising Islamophobia, slammed "xenophobic statements" made against Muslims in speeches by "politicians and candidates seeking the highest office in the land" - a clear reference to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Mr Trump used a keynote address on Monday to demand ideological screening tests for immigrants, saying immigrants and their children were responsible for a string of extremist attacks in the US.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio promised extra police protection for mosques and Muslim communities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Man charged with murder of New York imam and friend'. Print Edition | Subscribe