NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A man was arrested and charged late Monday with the shooting that killed an imam and his associate in Queens this past weekend.
Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one of criminal possession of a weapon, police said. As CBS2’s Valerie Castro reported, Morel was walked out of the 107th Precinct late Monday.
NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said during a news conference Monday night that the suspect had been taken into custody for a hit-and-run in Brooklyn, and police had believed he was the same person who killed Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and his assistant Thara Uddin, 64, on Saturday afternoon.
Police late Monday were still trying to charge Morel in the hit-and-run.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the hit-and-run occurred three miles from the shooting.
“Detectives were able to develop a strong lead into a suspect very early on based on an unrelated incident that occurred in Brooklyn, approximately 10 minutes after the shooting, three miles away,” Bratton said.
Boyce explained the car involved in the hit-and-run was identical to the car the suspect got into following the double shooting.
CBS2’s Castro reported surveillance video showed a hit-and-run as a car was speeding through the intersection at Pitkin Avenue and Pine Street, clipping a man on a bicycle.
1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported the bicyclist was able to give the authorities a license plate number, and police found the description of that vehicle very similar to the description of the getaway vehicle connected to the shooting.
Boyce said police found the vehicle and monitored it until the person emerged about 10 p.m. Sunday. When detectives approached the car, Boyce said the man then rammed their car.
“We looked at the two cars, and they were identical. We looked at stickers and decals on each of the windshields, and they seemed identical,” Boyce said.
Boyce said the suspected gunman was there eight minutes prior to the shooting and that a motive has not yet been determined. A search warrant has been obtained for his home in East New York, Brooklyn.
Police sources told CBS2 a revolver and clothing similar to what the shooter wore on camera were found in a basement apartment in East New York during a search warrant.
The gun was a revolver that did not eject shell casings, which would explain why no shells were found at the scene. The gun is pending ballistic tests for a match.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said before charges were announced that “the killer will be brought to justice.”
“The NYPD is well on its way to fulfilling that mandate, bringing this case to fruition, and bringing justice to a community that’s hurting so deeply right now,” de Blasio said. “It’s also clear there’s a lot of fear in the community. It’s a very rare thing to see a cleric killed and members of the Muslim community have been on edge because of the atmosphere already that existed in this country, particularly over the last few months in our national debate.”
Earlier Monday, as CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, about 1,000 mourners came together to honor the lives of Akonjee and Uddin. They were both shot and killed in the middle of the street in broad daylight in Ozone Park, Queens, on Saturday.
At the memorial service, the imam’s son had one simple request as he spoke for the families.
“All we want is justice. That’s it,” he said.
De Blasio has been criticized by the local Muslim community for failing to meet with the victims’ loved ones and their neighbors. But he did attend the funeral to pay his respects to the families, and he spoke briefly with the imam’s sons before addressing the crowd.
“When we see two innocent men; two good men; two men of the cloth killed in such a violent manner, it pulls at all our hearts; all our souls,” de Blasio said, “and we too are focused on justice.”
The will of the crowd was not broken down under scorching sunlight, as they cried for peace and clarification by the NYPD to call the murders what the community believes they are.
“Two people just got murdered and NYPD saying this might not be a hate crime. I would like to ask NYPD, what is it then? Come on. Somebody comes from behind and shoot you for no reason – imam and his assistant?” said mourner Muhammad Ali. “Come on, this is common sense.”
Home surveillance video had shown the imam and Uddin gunned down by a man near Liberty Avenue and 79th Street in Queens as they walked home from afternoon prayers around 2:15 p.m. Saturday. They were not robbed.
The video showed the victims in traditional Islamic clothing, with the imam using an umbrella for shade. The imam’s friend is right next to him as they walk together. The video then shows the suspect coming up from behind them, lifting his arm.
The suspect then shoots both of the men. Afterwards, the suspect walked away with no apparent urgency.
With the help of the video and witness statements, police developed a sketch of the suspect.
The incident left the community on edge and grieving.
“He’s a good guy — why somebody hurt him I don’t know,” Rezwan Uddin, the victim’s nephew, said.
Police say the men were attacked from behind, leaving Uddin to believe his uncle and the imam were targeted because of their faith.
“This my feel… This is a hate crime,” Uddin said.
Politicians and advocates gathered around the mosque on Sunday.
“How could you not be concerned about your brother your mother your father and your children? And this is when we all have to come together,” Comptroller Scott Stringer said.
De Blasio promised that starting Monday, there would be an extra NYPD presence protecting mosques and people in the community.
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