NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An imam and a member of his congregation are dead following a double shooting in Queens on Saturday afternoon.
CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were each shot in the head while on their way home from a local mosque by a man who came up behind them. The shooting took place near Liberty Avenue and 79th Street in Ozone Park around 2 p.m.
Witnesses said the imam from the Al-Furqan Masjid mosque had just delivered an afternoon service and was walking home with another member of the mosque when both men were gunned down.
The motivation behind the violence is still unclear, but many from the surrounding community who attend the mosque are calling this a hate crime.
“After prayer, he taught us how to live peacefully and how to help each other,” said Nazrul Islam of Ozone Park.
“A family man has been lost and a scholarly imam has been lost and we are devastated and we want … peace,” said Kobir Chowdhury of Ozone Park.
“We feel really insecure and unsafe in a moment like this,” said Millat Uddin of Ozone Park. “It’s really threatening to us, threatening to our future, threatening to our mobility in our neighborhood, and we’re looking for the justice.”
New York City Councilmember Eric Ulrich, R-Ozone Park, said this is a close knit and devout Muslim community — a Bangladeshi and Pakistani enclave that is heartbroken by the senseless crime.
“For a crime like this to happen in their own community and for the victim to be somebody that they love and respect and admire so much, it has deeply impacted this community,” Ulrich said. “They are outraged.”
Those who know the imam said he leaves behind a family, including several children.
CBS2’s Castro reported several hundred people are holding a rally in the neighborhood, chanting “We want justice.”
Eric Phillips, press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the mayor is monitoring the investigation.
“The mayor is closely monitoring the NYPD investigation of this tragedy. We have a senior liaison with the Muslim community on-site to ensure mosque congregants and the neighborhood receive all the support and information they need during this difficult time,” Phillips said in a statement. “While it is too early to tell what led to these murders, it is certain that the NYPD will stop at nothing to ensure justice is served.”
WCBS 880’s Stephanie Colombini reported authorities are searching for a tan-skinned man in a dark polo shirt and shorts.
Police said there is nothing to indicate that the two men were targeted because of their faith.
Police added there is surveillance video in the area showing a man running with a gun.