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Albuquerque's Muslim community is on alert after the murders of 4 men

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Muslim community in Albuquerque is reeling with shock and grief after three South Asian Muslim men were shot and killed there in the last two weeks. The killings come after a similar homicide last November.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Local police say these attacks may be linked and have increased police patrols in the city center. The FBI is assisting with the investigation.

MARTINEZ: Megan Kamerick at member station KUNM in Albuquerque is following this story. Megan, tell us about these killings in Albuquerque.

MEGAN KAMERICK, BYLINE: Albuquerque police were already looking into whether two murders in the last two weeks were related to the one in November. Then on Friday, there was a third man, who the authorities have now identified as Naeem Hussain, who was shot to death, as the others were. This came just days after 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was murdered outside his home. And about a week before that, Aftab Hussein, age 41, was shot and killed. All three men were originally from Pakistan. Those deaths, authorities think, may be related to one back in November, that of 62-year-old Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi of Afghanistan, who was shot outside the store he owns with his brother.

MARTINEZ: What are you hearing from Albuquerque's Muslim community?

KAMERICK: They're terrified, understandably. According to the city of Albuquerque, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Muslims here, all races and ethnicities. Yesterday, we spoke to Abdur'Rauf Campos-Marquetti, a local imam.

ABDUR'RAUF CAMPOS-MARQUETTI: And it's a very scary situation 'cause their tranquility and peace has kind of been taken away 'cause you're always looking around - behind your shoulder to see if somebody is following you or something like that.

KAMERICK: At a safety meeting at The University of New Mexico yesterday, an official with the Islamic Center of New Mexico said some students have already left because they're afraid. One of the victims, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, got his master's degree at UNM and was president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association. The Islamic Center is urging people to be aware of their surroundings, including making sure they're not being followed and to avoid walking alone at night.

Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center, said the community has never gone through anything like this, and people are in fear of the safety of their children and families. But he also said evil will not win. Hate will not win. And he said there's been an outpouring of support from the extended community.

MARTINEZ: What's the status of the investigation?

KAMERICK: Police aren't saying anything at this point about whether it's a hate crime. Obviously, the men have similar backgrounds, but police are keeping many details under wraps to protect the case. They're still trying to establish definitive links between these killings. Officials have identified a car - a dark gray or silver Volkswagen sedan - that they believe is linked to the murders. They've also created a site where people can upload videos or pictures that could help solving the crimes. Officials say police will have some presence at all mosques and places of prayer in the Muslim community, and they've set up two mobile investigative vans where people can provide tips about the case.

Crime Stoppers has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering another $10,000. And the city's offering help with trauma counseling and some meal deliveries.

MARTINEZ: One more thing, Megan. I know New Mexico's a place where there's a big mix of cultures, and it seems like a place that a diverse population mostly gets along. I mean, how is this playing out there?

KAMERICK: Yes. Mayor Tim Keller invoked that, saying Albuquerque and New Mexico have been defined by a love for every person and every religion. That, in a sense, makes us who we are, given our history. And no place is perfect, but Albuquerque's a city where folks are used to seeing a variety of people. And refugees have added to that diversity over the years. So I think people are still in shock and disbelief and sadness that this is happening here.

MARTINEZ: That's KUNM's Megan Kamerick joining us by way of Skype. Megan, thanks.

KAMERICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.