The search for a motive in the execution-style shootings of an imam and an aide in Queens continued Thursday as leaders of the city’s Muslim community urged vigilance — fearful of a hate-fueled attack targeting those of the Islamic faith.
“Law enforcement has said the motivation for the killings is not clear at the moment but that is not the way the killings are being received by Muslims in Queens, New York City and nationwide,” said Abul Bhuiyan, president of the Jamaica, Queens-based Islamic Leadership Council of New York, at a City Hall news conference Thursday that included the victims’ relatives, Christian clerics, Jewish rabbis, and elected officials.
Bhuiyan and others said there is a widespread belief among Muslims that the shootings of Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and his friend Thara Uddin, 64, were hate crimes.
Police have arrested Oscar Morel, 35, of Brooklyn in connection with the killings. Both victims were shot in the head as they walked in traditional garb on an Ozone Park street, the NYPD said.
Morel faces two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon.
Investigators recovered a revolver in Morel’s basement apartment and ballistic tests showed the bullets found in the bodies of the two men matched the handgun, Queens prosecutors said.
Through his lawyer, Morel has said he did not commit the crime. His next court appearance is Monday.
Officials said it remains a mystery why Akonjee, a popular cleric at al-Furqan Jame Mosque, just two blocks from the shootings, and Uddin, his aide, were gunned down.
While acknowledging investigators have yet to identify a motive, Mayor Bill de Blasio said GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pledge to temporarily ban Muslims from the United States, has put American Muslims on edge about being attacked.
“The atmosphere of fear . . . in Muslim communities is real and Donald Trump was a big part of that,” de Blasio said at an unrelated event Thursday.
NYPD detectives “have looked at every angle,” he said. “. . . They cannot find a motive . . . we’re not going to ascribe a motive unless we’re sure we know the motive.”
An official with the Trump campaign did not return an email seeking comment.
Outside City Hall, many in attendance said they were relieved a suspect was in custody but still want answers.
“Our hearts are broken,’’ said Momin Ahmed, the son-in-law of Uddin who attended with other family members.
Choking back tears, Ahmed said Uddin “was a peaceful man. I am glad the NYPD caught [Morel] but we want to know the reason and we want justice.’’
Afia Uddin, Uddin’s sister in-law, said her six children are too scared to leave their Ozone Park apartment.
Bhuiyan said he wanted “our fellow New Yorkers to report any and all incidents of bias to law enforcement and to stand against all forms of racism and bigotry.”
With Matthew Chayes