Tensions have remained high in a predominantly Bangladeshi, working-class neighborhood of Queens after a beloved Muslim cleric and his assistant were shot and killed on Saturday. Now, 35-year-old Oscar Morel of Brooklyn faces two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon after authorities took him into custody.
The imam, Alauddin Akonjee, was a father and grandfather, who was described in a recent New York Times article as someone who delivered messages of peace and kindness to his congregation at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque. Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Miah, were walking away from the mosque when Morel reportedly followed them on foot before fatally shooting them on a street corner and fleeing the scene in an SUV. Police reportedly took Morel into custody after connecting him with a (non-fatal) hit-and-run accident that occurred near the attack.
As the community mourns, the senselessness of the double murder raises questions about the increasingly hostile attitudes toward Muslims. While initial reports suggested this could have been a robbery, many believe the incident was motivated by hatred and Islamophobia. According to Al Jazeera, huge crowds lined the streets in protest, holding signs that read, “Muslim Lives Matter.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also promised to help restore peace and offer protection for Muslims in the community who feel that their safety is threatened. “There are voices all over this country who are spewing hate, trying to create division and turn one American against another … we’re not going to listen to those voices that try to divide us,” de Blasio said