NEW YORK (AP) — Police arrested and charged a man with murder late Monday night in the brazen daytime shooting deaths of an imam and his friend as they left a New York City mosque.
Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, police said. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.
Morel was taken into custody late Sunday night for hitting a bicyclist with his SUV just 10 minutes after Saturday’s shooting in Queens, said the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, Robert Boyce, at a news conference Monday. Police said they “strongly believed” he was the same person who killed Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Uddin.
Boyce said Morel was seen on surveillance video fleeing the area of the shooting in a black GMC Trailblazer right after the two were shot in the head. About 10 minutes later, a car matching that description struck a bicyclist nearby in Brooklyn. Morel was arrested outside a Brooklyn apartment after he intentionally rammed his car into an unmarked police cruiser trying to block him in, Boyce said.
Charges against Morel were upgraded Monday night after police said they recovered a revolver at his Brooklyn home and clothes similar to those being worn in the surveillance video that showed the gunman.
Earlier Monday, about 1,000 people gathered under tents to praise Akonjee, 55, and Uddin, 64, in an Islamic funeral service where emotions ran high.
The ceremony featured several speakers who said they believed the victims were targeted because of their religion. Some members of the congregation shouted, “Justice!” periodically throughout the service.
After the ceremony, part of the crowd marched to the spot a few blocks away where the shooting took place.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, told those gathered that the entire city was “mourning with you.”
Authorities have not released a motive for the killings, though Boyce said the possibility that the murders were a hate crime is “certainly on the table.”
Some in the largely Bangladeshi Muslim community in Queens and Brooklyn have described harassment in recent months by people who shouted anti-Muslim epithets.
This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the imam’s title as Maulana, not Maulama, per new information from the mayor’s office and a family member.