An Afghan national living in New Mexico was arrested in Monday and charged in two of the four murders of Muslims in Albuquerque that authorities had pinned on a possible serial killer targeting Muslims.
The man, who is also a suspect in the other two killings, knew the victims, the Associated Press reported.
Muhammad Syed, 51, of Albuquerque, was taken into custody on Monday after he was pulled over 100 miles from the city. He was charged with the murders of two of the men and officials said he was a prime suspect in the other two killings.
Police in New Mexico had been investigating whether a serial killer was targeting Muslims after the murder of four Muslim men in the state over the last 10 months.
According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than one percent of New Mexico’s two million residents are Muslim.
In the latest killing, an unnamed Muslim man was murdered on Friday night, the New York Post reported. The death followed the murder of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, who was shot on August 1. The two killings came after the murders of Aftab Hussein on July 26 and Mohammad Ahmadi in November 2021.
Both Hussain and Hussein were of Pakistani background and attended the same mosque, the New York Times reported.
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina in announcing the charges said it had not been determined if the murders would be classified as hate crimes serial killings or both.
Syed, originally from Afghanistan, had lived in the United States for around five years.
The police said in a statement that the suspect knew the victims, although it is not clear to what extent, and theorized that a personal conflict could have led to the murders. But they cautioned that investigators were still determining how the men had come into contact with each other.
Asked if Syed, who is a Sunni Muslim, was upset that his daughter had married a Shiite Muslim, Deputy Police Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock stated that “motives are still being explored fully to understand what they are.”
The murders drew outrage from New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham who said on Twitter on Saturday that she was ordering extra state police to work on the investigation, which she described as “targeted killings.”
“The targeted killings of Muslim residents of Albuquerque is deeply angering and wholly intolerable,” she said. “We will not stop in our pursuit of justice for the victims and their families and are bringing every resource to bear to apprehend the killer or killers – and we WILL find them.”
President Joe Biden also denounced the killings on Sunday, tweeting: “While we await a full investigation, my prayers are with the victims’ families, and my administration stands strongly with the Muslim community. These hateful attacks have no place in America.”