US & Canada

New York imam and assistant shot dead in Queens

A crowd of community members gather at the place where Imam Maulama Akonjee was killed in the Queens borough of New York City, August 13, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Members of the Bangladeshi community in New York have turned out to mourn Imam Akonjee

An imam and his assistant were shot dead as they walked along a street in the New York borough of Queens.

The men were approached from behind by a man who shot them both in the head, a police spokesman said.

Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, moved to the city from Bangladesh two years ago, US media reported.

Some mosque-goers said they believed it was a hate crime but police said there was as yet no evidence that the men were targeted because of their faith.

A man holding a gun was seen leaving the scene of the shooting in the Ozone Park area, but no-one has been arrested.

Police said the suspect had a "medium complexion". They released a sketch on Sunday.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Police have released a sketch of the suspect

Imam Akonjee and his assistant Thara Uddin, 64, were shot a short walk from the al-Furqan Jame mosque at about 13:50 local time (17:50 GMT) on Saturday.

"He would not hurt a fly," Imam Akonjee's nephew Rahi Majid, told the New York Daily News.

"You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings."

Image copyright Shahin Chowdhury via AP
Image caption Imam Maulama Akonjee was reportedly originally from Bangladesh
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The scene of the killing attracted mourners and demonstrators

Friends of Imam Akonjee told media he had just left the mosque after prayers when he was shot. The mosque serves the large Bangladeshi community in Ozone Park.

Dozens of people from the nearby Muslim community gathered at the scene to mourn and demonstrate, chanting "We want justice".

Some of those attending the rally said the shooting was a hate crime, although police said they were still investigating the motive.

'Beloved people'

"We feel really insecure and unsafe in a moment like this," Millat Uddin told CBS New York.

"It's really threatening to us, threatening to our future, threatening to our mobility in our neighbourhood, and we're looking for the justice."

"These were two very beloved people. These were community leaders," Afaf Nasher, of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Reuters. "There is a deep sense of mourning and an overwhelming cry for justice to be served."

"I understand the fear because I feel it myself. I understand the anger," said Sarah Sayeed, a member of New York mayor Bill De Blasio's staff who works as a liaison with Muslim communities. "But it's very important to mount a thorough investigation."

Last year the New York Times reported that hate crimes against US Muslims and mosques tripled in the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Sandals remained at the scene of the crime

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