A Muslim cleric and an associate were fatally shot by a lone gunman on Saturday while walking together following afternoon prayers at a mosque in the New York City borough of Queens, authorities said.
The gunman approached the men from behind and shot both in the head at close range at about 1:50 p.m. EDT on a blistering hot afternoon in the Ozone Park neighborhood, police said in a statement, adding that no arrests had been made.
The motive for the shooting was not immediately known and no evidence has been uncovered that the two men were targeted because of their faith, said Tiffany Phillips, a spokeswoman for the New York City Police Department. Even so, police were not ruling out any possibility, she added.
The victims, identified as Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, were both wearing religious garb at the time of shooting, police said.
The men were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where they died.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group known by the acronym CAIR, said Uddin was an associate of the imam.
“These were two very beloved people,” Afaf Nasher, executive director of the New York chapter of 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.”
Video footage posted on YouTube showed dozens of men gathered near the site of the shooting, with one of them telling the crowd that it appeared to be a hate crime, even as police said the motive was still unknown.You can’t go up to a person and shoot them in the head and not be motivated by hatred.”
The suspect was seen by witnesses fleeing the scene with a gun in his hand, police said.