We have a vehicle of interest. … We have got to find this vehicle — Mayor Tim Keller
Police on Sunday announced a possible break in the investigation of the shootings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, slayings that have thrust Albuquerque into the national spotlight and drawn outrage from President Joe Biden and countless others.
“These hateful attacks have no place in America,” the president said on social media, echoing the condemnation expressed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Mayor Tim Keller at a Sunday afternoon news conference, part of which was carried live by CNN.
Four Muslim men have been shot to death in the last nine months — three of them in the last two weeks. The most recent homicide occurred late Friday night.
Authorities are asking for the public’s help in finding a sedan police suspect may have been used by the shooter or shooters.
“We have a very, very strong lead,” Keller said during the news conference. “We have a vehicle of interest. … We have got to find this vehicle.”
The Albuquerque Police Department said the vehicle officers are looking for is a dark gray or silver, four-door Volkswagen, perhaps a Jetta or a Passat, with tinted windows. Deputy Chief Cecily Barker said there may be some damage to the sedan.
Police wouldn’t say when or how the vehicle piqued investigators’ interest.
“There are several things in common with all four of the homicides,” said Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman.
Police are urging the public to contact authorities and not take matters into their own hands.
Anyone with information about the vehicle is asked to call 505-843-STOP, go to crimestoppersnm.com, or contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI. Crime Stoppers is offering a $20,000 reward and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering another $10,000 for information leading to an arrest, the city announced.
The first shooting happened Nov. 7, when Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, was killed behind a halal market he owned with his brother. Police said Saturday they are trying to determine if that killing was related to the more recent homicides. APD had previously said there was a “strong possibility” that it was.
Aftab Hussein, 41, was shot July 26 close to his home near Wyoming and Central NE.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was also shot outside his home near Yale and Coal SE on Aug. 1.
Naeem Hussain, who is in his mid-20s, was shot late Friday outside of an organization that offers services for refugees and asylum seekers near San Mateo and Copper NE.
Police said they are keeping many details of the investigation under wraps to protect the case.
“We’re in close coordination with the (District Attorney’s) Office so that we do this in a way that will stick and will hold up in court. And that will ultimately bring justice,” Keller said.
The shocking crimes have upended a sense of security in the Muslim community and left government leaders trying to respond.
Deputy Chief Josh Brown said that officers have adjusted shifts and schedules so that police will have some presence at all mosques and places of prayer in the Muslim community. The city is working with University of New Mexico Police on a safety plan for students returning to campus and is coordinating with Albuquerque Public Schools police to ensure the safety of students.
APD has also pledged to keep two mobile investigative vans parked near the Islamic Center of New Mexico and Highland High School, so there are places for people to provide tips about the case.
Some city departments will be delivering groceries and hot meals to people who are too afraid to go out and run errands. And the city is making trauma counseling available through the Albuquerque Community Safety Department. Those services can be accessed by calling 311.
“This is a frightening time for many, we have members of our Muslim community who are afraid to participate in everyday activities,” Keller said.
Stand up against hatred
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris denounced the killings on social media.
“While we await a full investigation, my prayers are with the victims’ families, and my Administration stands strongly with the Muslim community,” Biden wrote on Twitter.
“I am deeply disturbed by the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque,” Harris tweeted. “As law enforcement continues to investigate these heinous attacks, we remain clear that we stand with the Muslim community in New Mexico and around our country.”
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe also issued a statement saying it “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.
Among those speaking at the news conference Sunday was Gov. Lujan Grisham, who said the state stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice.
“First, I want to say to the Albuquerque Islamic community, and frankly that community statewide, I am incredibly angry about this situation,” she said, adding that every New Mexican should stand up against the hatred.
“We will bring this person or these persons to justice,” the governor pledged. “We will provide justice to the families who have lost everything.”
Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury also attended the Sunday news conference. Muhammad Afzaal Hussain worked on her campaign.
“He was a member of our campaign team,” she said. “A kind, funny, brilliant, amazing young man from Pakistan who came to the United States to pursue his career and his life’s dream.”
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, at the news conference attested to the police’s response to the shootings. He said he was confident the team of investigators will solve the case.
“We’re hopeful because good is going to defeat evil,” he said.