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Gunman still on loose after killing of imam near New York mosque

Members of the Bangladeshi-American community in Ozone Park, Queens, blamed Donald Trump's xenophobic rhetoric for the killing, while police said they had no reason to believe the attack was related to religion.

by Tess Owen
Aug 14 2016, 1:30pm

People gather for a demonstration Saturday against the slaying of imam Maulama Akonjee and his companion, Aug. 13, 2016, in Queens, New York. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Police still don't have any suspects in the Saturday shooting of an imam and his colleague by a lone gunman after prayers at a nearby mosque in Queens, New York, and some in the imam's community are calling his murder a hate crime.

The imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, were both shot in the head in Ozone Park — a traditionally Italian-American, working class neighborhood with a growing Muslim population from Bangladesh. Akonjee and Uddin were both wearing traditional religious dress at the time of the shooting.

Residents in Queens gathered with signs saying "we want justice" to mourn their local imam and his associate on Saturday afternoon.


Investigators have not yet released a motive for the killing. One possibility was that of a botched robbery, because Akonjee was carrying almost $1,000. But the murderer did not take the money.

In a statement, police said that surveillance footage and witnesses reported that the two men were approached by a man wearing a dark polo shirt and shorts at around 1.50 pm. After shooting Akonjee and Uddin, the man fled and remains at large.

One local resident at the murder scene Khairul Islam, 33, told The New York Daily News that the community "blame Donald Trump for this" — referring to his anti-Muslim rhetoric which some say has fostered a climate of Islamophobia in many parts of the US.

"That is not what America is about," Islam added. Many of the people who gathered on Saturday afternoon were demanding that the shootings be investigated as a hate crime.

"These were two very beloved people," Afaf Nasher, executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, or CAIR, told Reuters. "These were community leaders."

"There is a deep sense of mourning and an overwhelming cry for justice to be served," Nasher said. "There is a very loud cry, too, for the NYPD to investigate fully, with the total amount of their resources, the incident that happened today."

"There is nothing in the preliminary investigation that would indicate they were targeted because of their faith," NYPD Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner told reporters at a news conference, while adding that police weren't ruling out any possibly motives.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen