New Mexico police probe killings of 4 Muslim men, Biden condemns 'hateful attacks'

U.S. authorities on Monday identified the fourth victim in a series of killings of Muslim men in New Mexico's largest city as the deaths sent ripples of fear through the religious community nationwide.

3 of the victims, slain in the past 2 weeks, attended the same mosque

A man kneels and cries in front of a mound of dirt at a burial.
Altaf Hussein cries over the grave of his brother Aftab Hussein at Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday. Law enforcement believes one person could be responsible for killing four Muslim men in the past nine months. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal/The Associated Press)

U.S. authorities on Monday identified the fourth victim in a series of killings of Muslim men in New Mexico's largest city as the deaths sent ripples of fear through the religious community nationwide.

Law enforcement officials are also seeking help to find a vehicle believed to be connected to the Albuquerque slayings where the common elements were the victims' race and religion, officials said.

Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night, and ambush shootings killed three other Muslim men over the past nine months. Police are trying to determine if the slayings are linked.

Hussain, 25, was a Muslim from Pakistan. His death followed those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, who were killed in the past week. Both were from Pakistan and members of the same mosque. The earliest case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, a Muslim man from Afghanistan.

Police on Sunday asked for the public's help in locating a "vehicle of interest" in their probe of the fatal shootings.

Police said the same vehicle is suspected of being used in all four homicides — a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appears to be a Jetta with dark tinted windows. Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car.

Investigators did not say where the images were taken or what led them to suspect the car was involved in the slayings.

A woman holds up a piece of paper with photos of a car ad the word "Wanted."
Albuquerque Police Deputy Chief of Investigations Cecily Barker holds a flyer with photos of a car wanted in connection with Muslim men murdered as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham looks on in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal via The Associate Press)

"We have a very, very strong link," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. "We have a vehicle of interest . We have got to find this vehicle."

Mayor Tim Keller said state authorities were working to provide an "extra police presence at mosques during times of prayer" as the investigation proceeds in New Mexico's largest city, home to as many as 5,000 Muslims out of some 565,000 total residents.

Police said the latest victim, Naeem Hussain, was gunned down on Friday night, in a killing that local Islamic leaders said occurred shortly after he had attended funeral services for two others slain during the past couple of weeks.

Police have given few details of his killing but described the first three killings as ambush shootings.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has characterized them as "targeted killings of Muslim residents."

U.S. President Joe Biden posted a message on Twitter on Sunday expressing solidarity with the Muslim community, adding, "These hateful attack have no place in America."

Multiple police agencies investigating

Police confirmed last week that local detectives and federal law enforcement officers were looking for possible ties between the killings.

Police have said they are treating the three recent slayings as linked to the Nov. 7 murder of Ahmadi, who was shot to death in a parking lot outside a halal supermarket and cafe.

"There are several things in common with all four of the homicides," city police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos told reporters on Sunday.

Asked whether investigators consider the killings to be hate crimes, Gallegos said, "Hate is determined by motive, and we don't know that motive at this point."

New Mexico State Police, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service are among the agencies assisting in the investigation.

Victim remembered as kind and hard-working

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local congresswoman's campaign.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury issued a statement praising him as "one of the kindest and hardest working people" she has ever known. She said the urban planner was "committed to making our public spaces work for every person and cleaning up legacy pollution."

A man smiles, standing between two flags and a sign that says "City of Espanola."
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, shown in this undated photo released by the City of Espanola shows, was a planning and land use director who was killed in Albuquerque, N.M., on Aug. 1. (City of Espanola via The Associated Press)

As land-use director for the city of Espanola — more than 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Albuquerque — Muhammad Afzaal Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusivity for disadvantaged minorities, according to the mayor's office.

"Muhammad was soft-spoken and kind, and quick to laugh," Espanola Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release. The city staff "has lost a member of our family, and we all have lost a brilliant public servant who wanted to service and improve his community."

With files from Thomson Reuters