A Muslim cleric and his associate were shot to death in Queens on Saturday afternoon. The New York Police Department has not considered religion as a motive for the crime.

After leaving the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque for afternoon prayers, an imam and a second community leader were fatally shot by a gunman in Queens. Police officials identified the victims as Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and Tharam Uddin, 64. Police declarations affirm that Akonjee and Uddin were wearing religious garbs when a man, who approached them from behind, shot both in the head.

Queens killer
Sketch provided by the New York City Police Department on Sunday. Image credit: AP.

The victims, allegedly identified as Bangladeshis, were immediately brought to the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where they died while physicians were conducting life-saving procedures on them. According to officials, the incident occurred at about 1:50 p.m. at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 79th Street, three blocks from the mosque, in the Ozone Park neighborhood.

Witnessed declared they saw the suspect had a medium complexion. He was wearing shorts and a dark polo shirt and carried a gun in his hand. In a statement, Deputy Inspector, Henry Sautner, said an extensive canvass of the area for video and additional witnesses is being conducted. No arrests have been made so far.

A hate crime?

Members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community who regularly attend the mosque, suspect that Muslims might have become a target for extremists. They also urged authorities to treat the imam and his associate’s murder as a hate crime.

Mosque’s members reported they had lately felt hostility, and they had even heard some people cursing while passing in front of the facility. A worshipper at the mosque, Shahin Chowdhury, also noticed animosity while performing worships at the mosque.

Queens crime
The crime scene. Image credit: AP.

He said he warned fellow members to be careful while being on the streets, especially while wearing Muslim traditional clothes. The New York Police Department said on Saturday it doesn’t believe the crime is linked to the Muslim faith.

Officer Tiffany Phillips said that her department does not think the imam and his associate were targeted because of religious reasons, according to The Washington Post.

Phillips did not point out what police authorities believe might have been the motive for the shooting, nor what evidence is considered to treat the murder as a hate crime.

“At this time, it does not look like it has anything to do with their race or their religion,” declared Officer Tiffany Phillips. After the incident, people protested in Queens near the shooting’s place. Placards and chants said: “We want justice.”

Fellow members of the mosque describe the imam as a peaceful man and a wonderful person. He was beloved within Ozone Park’s large Muslim community and known by his special voice and melody to read the Koran.

Source: Prothom