In what appears to be a hate crime, an imam (a Muslim cleric) and his associate were gunned down in Queens, New York City.
The 55-year-old imam, Maulana Akonjee of the Al-Furqan Jamia mosque, was fatally shot Aug. 13 along with 64-year-old Thara-ud-Din in the Ozone Park neighborhood, two blocks away from the place of worship.
The two were garbed in religious attire that easily identified them as Muslims.
The victims were rushed to Jamaica Hospital, where they succumbed to their injuries.
The shooter, who eye witnesses recall being a tall, Hispanic man, ambushed the victims from behind and shot them at close range.
“All of a sudden I heard five shots,” said a witness, “I knew it wasn’t firecrackers. And then the commotion of the emergency (vehicles), and that’s when I knew…When I came here, they were doing CPR to both of the people on the ground.”
Tiffany Phillips, a spokeswoman for the New York Police Department, said although the department was not ruling out any possibility, evidence that the two men were targeted because of their faith had yet to be unearthed.
So far, there seems to be no reason for anyone to harbor animosity toward the imam, who has been described as a tranquil person.
"He would not hurt a fly," his nephew Rahi Majid, 26, told the New York Daily News. "You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings."
An imam holds a significant position in many Muslim communities, where he acts as a counsel of the inhabitants on religious matters. The murder of an imam, therefore, sparked outrage in the local Muslim community.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil and advocacy group, called a press conference in front of the Al-Furqan Jamia Masjid.
"We are calling for all people, of all faiths, to rally with compassion and with a sense of vigilance so that justice can be served," Nasher, executive director of CAIR, New York chapter, said. "You can’t go up to a person and shoot them in the head and not be motivated by hatred."
An angry, grievous crowd also gathered before the local media to protest the killing.
“That’s not what America is about,” local resident Khairul Islam told the Daily News. “We blame Donald Trump for this … Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia.”
Incidents such as the shooting on a military installment in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the coordinatedterrorist attacks in Paris, France, and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California have fueled anti-Islamic sentiments all across the United States over the past two years.
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In addition, Trump has been at the front of a movement that attempts to paint Muslims as the villainous, contemptible "other." He has promised to ban Muslim immigration, and has revealed his fantasy of killing Muslims with "bullets dipped in pig blood."
Though there's no proof, yet, if the attacker in the case of the mosque shooting in Queens was inspired by the Republican nominee's divisive rhetoric, it is still a matter of grave concern that the affected community believes that it could be a contributing factor.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Mike Segar