A gunman in Queens, New York, has shot and killed an imam and his assistant as they left the mosque after Zuhr prayers, the police have said.
The police said the imam, Maulama Akonjee, 55, and the assistant, Thara Uddin, 64, were shot shortly after 2pm near the mosque, Al-Furqan Jame Masjid, in the Ozone Park neighborhood.
Witnesses said they were approached from behind by a man wearing a dark polo shirt and shorts and were shot to the head, witnesses then saw the man running away with a gun.
Both men were found with gunshots wounds to the heads and were taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where they died.
Police have said that the killings appeared to be a targeted attack but did no immediately release a motive for the shooting but did say that Mr. Akonjee was carrying more than $1,000 that was not taken which suggests the killing was not a botched robbery attempt.
Another regular attendee at the mosque, Misba Abdin, 47, said that Mr Akonjee was originally from Bangladesh and moved to the area some years ago.
Henry Sautner, a deputy inspector in the New York Police Department said they are keeping an open mind for the motive of the shootings, saying: “There’s nothing in the preliminary investigation that would indicate that they were targeted by their faith,”
Residents of the area and other attendees at the mosque have said that the nature of the shooting, in the middle of the day with no obvious motive against a ‘quiet and pious’ imam, led them to conclude that the men were targeted because of their race or religion.
Another attendee when asked if he was afraid for his safety after the attack said: ‘Of course we’re afraid.’
Hundreds of residents also gathered at the murder scene on Saturday evening shouting ‘we want justice!’
Members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community served by the mosque said they want the shootings to be treated as a hate crime.
Police also said that no arrests have yet been made while a mayors statement released later on Saturday said: “While it is too early to tell what led to these murders, it is certain that the NYPD will stop at nothing to ensure justice is served,”