A Muslim cleric and a second man 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.
Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque shortly before 2 pm.
Both men were later pronounced dead, an administrator at Jamaica Hospital said.
Police said no motive has been established and there was no reason to believe the men were shot because they were Muslim. No suspects are in custody.
“There’s nothing in the preliminary investigation to indicate that they were targeted because of their faith,” said deputy inspector Henry Sautner of the New York Police Department.
Sautner said video surveillance shows the victims were approached from behind by a man in a dark polo shirt and shorts who shot them and then fled with the gun still in his hand.
Members of the Bangladeshi community served by the mosque said they want the shootings to be treated as a hate crime.
More than 100 people attending a rally at the shooting site Saturday night chanted “We want justice!”
Sarah Sayeed, a member of mayor Bill de Blasio’s staff, serves as a liaison to Muslim communities. She attended the rally and said, “I understand the fear because I feel it myself. I understand the anger. But it’s very important to mount a thorough investigation.”
Khaled Rahman, who also was there, said he believed the shootings were an attack “against our religion” and he hoped police increase security around mosques.
Shahin Chowdhury, a worshipper at the mosque, said members of the community had felt animosity lately, with people cursing while passing the mosque. He said he had advised community members to be careful walking around, especially when in traditional clothing.
He called the imam a “wonderful person” with a voice that made his Quran readings especially compelling.
Worshipper Millat Uddin said Akonjee had led the mosque for about two years and was a very pious man.
“The community’s heart is totally broken,” said Uddin, who is not related to Thara Uddin. “It’s a great misery. It’s a great loss to the community and it’s a great loss to the society.”
Neighbours also described Thara Uddin as a pious and thoughtful man who prayed five times a day and went to the mosque. While at home, they said he would water his garden and one next door.
“A very honest, wise man ... (And) a very helpful guy,” said neighbour Mohammed Uddin, who is not a relation of Thara Uddin’s.