World

Man charged with 2nd-degree murder in slaying of New York City imam, friend

A man suspected in the fatal shooting of an imam and his friend as they left a mosque in New York City has been arrested on charges of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

Police have not yet determined a motive after 2 men shot while leaving mosque

Community members take part in a protest during the funeral service of Imam Maulama Akonjee, and Thara Uddin in the Queens borough of New York City. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

A man suspected in the fatal shooting of an imam and his friend as they left a mosque in New York City has been arrested on charges of second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

Charges against 35-year-old Oscar Morel, of Brooklyn, were upgraded on Monday after police say they recovered a revolver at his home and clothes similar to that being worn in surveillance video that shows the gunman.

Morel was arrested on Sunday after police say he hit a bicyclist 10 minutes after Saturday's shooting in Queens. It wasn't immediately clear if he has an attorney who can comment on the charges.

Authorities have not said what prompted the daytime shooting of Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64.

The pair were killed as they left afternoon prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Queens on Saturday. Police say both men were wearing their traditional religious attire.

Authorities say surveillance footage showed a car leaving the scene of Saturday's shooting that matched the description of one involved in an unsolved hit-and-run crash in Brooklyn. 

A man cries as community members take part in a protest to demand the stop of hate crimes after an imam and another man who were shot as they left a mosque Saturday. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Passions were running hot on Monday at the funeral service for the two men. 

About 1,000 people, including city's mayor Bill de Blasio, gathered for the prayer service for Akonjee and Uddin. The service was being held at a municipal parking lot about six blocks from the crime scene.

Blasio said at the service Monday that Muslims make New York better and stronger. The crowd applauded when he said that whoever committed the crime would be brought to justice. He also said the community will get extra police protection.

The motive of the gunman remains unknown, but the ceremony featured several speakers who said they believed the victims were targeted because of their religion.

Some members of the congregation shouted, "Justice!" periodically throughout the service.

"He always wants peace," Akonjee's son, Naim Akonjee, 21, said of his father through tears. "Why did they kill my father?"

Another son, Foyez Uddin, who isn't related to the other victim, told The Associated Press in Bangladesh that his father and mother had booked flights for Aug. 31 to visit Akonjee's mother. The son said the family is discussing funeral plans. He said they "cannot believe he is no more," and call the loss "irreparable."

'People, they just hate us'

Monir Chowdhury, who worshipped daily with the two men, said he had moved to the community because of its large Bangladeshi immigrant population, but in recent months has been harassed by people shouting anti-Muslim epithets.

In one incident, a man called him "Osama" as he walked to the mosque with his three-year-old son. With the killer still on the loose, Chowdhury decided it would be best to drive to prayer services.

"A lot of neighbours said, 'Hey, don't take your kid with you,"' he said. "People, they just hate us."

Police on Sunday released a sketch of the suspected gunman, a dark-haired, bearded man wearing glasses. He was described by witnesses as a man with a medium complexion.

Members of the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque hold up a police sketch of a suspect believed to have shot the mosque's imam. (Craig Ruttle/Associated Press)

A person who lives near the shooting scene shared with The Associated Press and other media organizations surveillance video that showed a man walking up behind the imam and his associate, shooting them and then walking off.

An official with the government in Bangladesh condemned the killings on Twitter. The country's state minister for foreign affairs, Mohammed Shahriar Alam, called the shooting a "cowardly act on peace-loving people."

The U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat, also decried the violence, saying Akonjee "stood for peace."

Several police officers were stationed outside the mosque on Sunday as worshippers remembered the victims and remarked on their devotion to their families and faith.

Thousands gathered to pray at the caskets of Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin in a municipal parking lot on Monday in Queens. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

now