As Muslims in Albuquerque grieve murders, U.S. bishops offer sympathy and support

Mosque CNA file photo CNA

The murders of four Muslim men in Albuquerque shocked the local community. In response, Catholic leaders have offered prayer and support.

“We join you in your sorrow and promise you a remembrance in our prayers,” Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said Aug. 11. “May all people of good will work together to deliver our communities from all forms of violence so that we might enjoy the gift of God’s peace.”

Cupich is the Catholic co-chairman of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue. Bishop David Talley of Memphis, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, shared Cupich’s statement.

Four Muslim men of South Asian descent were killed in the Albuquerque area between November 2021 and August of this year, CNN reports. The latest three murders took place in the span of two weeks.

On Tuesday Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said police had detained 51-year-old Muhammed Syed in connection to the crimes.

Syed, who denies the allegations, is originally from Afghanistan. On Wednesday he was charged with the July 26 murder of Aftab Hussein, 41, and the Aug. 1 murder of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, NBC News reports.

Medina said Syed is a suspect in the Friday killing of Naeem Hussain, 25, and is the “primary suspect” in the Nov. 7 killing of Mohammad Zahar Ahmadi.

Ahmadi was originally from Afghanistan. He was shot outside a halal café and market he ran with his brother. His brother said that Ahmadi and the suspect had a confrontation two years prior when the suspect bought large amounts of rice from the store and tried to sell them back at a profit, NBC News reports.

After the confrontation, in early 2020, Syed allegedly slashed the car tires of Ahmadi’s brother outside Friday services at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Syed was temporarily banned from the mosque when security video footage appeared to show him slashing the tires.

The three most recent victims were from Pakistan and attended the same mosque. They were “ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed,” police said.

The fourth victim, Naeem Hussain, attended a funeral for two of the victims last Friday and was found dead hours later.

Medina told reporters the police department refrained from labeling the shootings hate crimes or attributable to a serial killer because “it would’ve been irresponsible for us as a police department to say that and further drive fear into a community that was already in fear.”

“We still don't have any indication that either of these topics or labels would've been appropriate,” he said, according to CNN.

Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Society of New Mexico, initially told the New York Times that he understood the authorities were exploring the possibility the suspect was a Sunni Muslim who resented his daughter’s marriage to a Shia Muslim. He later told Time magazine this was a “rumor” that requires further investigation.

Police said it is unclear whether this was a full motive, a partial motive, or part of “a bigger picture.”

Catholic leaders spoke out in support of Muslims and the affected community.

Citing “the tragic loss of four Muslim lives,” Cupich said he affirmed an Aug. 7 statement from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which includes Albuquerque.

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“The Catholic community stands in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters during this time of crisis. The senseless murders of these upstanding members of our community bring sorrow to all of us,” the archdiocese said in a Sunday statement.

“We are fervently praying for the safety of all in the Muslim community and are asking our loving God to keep them safe and watch over them,” the Santa Fe archdiocese said. “Our hearts go out to those who have been killed and to those who lost loved ones. We pray that our loving God will take them quickly to Himself.”

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