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Suspect in Killing of NY Imam Charged WIth Murder: NYPD



    A man is facing murder and weapons charges in the shooting deaths of a Queens imam and his associate. Ray Villeda reports. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016)

    A man has been arrested on murder and weapons charges in the shooting deaths of a Queens imam and his associate in broad daylight, police say. 

    The suspect, 35-year-old Oscar Morel, was taken into custody late Sunday night as he approached a vehicle that police had connected to a hit-and-run earlier in the day. He appears to match the description of the suspected shooter, a senior police official said. 

    Senior police officials said that officers boxed him in with patrol cars, but the suspect tried to flee and hit a police car. Officers then pulled out their weapons and ordered him to surrender. 

    A gun and clothes similar to those worn by the suspected shooter were found at Morel's home in East New York Monday, police sources close to the investigation told NBC 4 New York. The Queens district attorney's office drew up the search warrant for the property search.

    The gun was found hidden in the apartment's wall, behind drywall and screws, the sources said. Ballistics tests will be done to see if it is the murder weapon.

    Morel has a past arrest for marijuana possession, sources said. 

    Meanwhile, about 1,000 people packed streets Monday about six blocks from where the shooting took place for a service for Imam Maulama Akonjee and his associate, Thara Uddin. Some of those attending chanted "justice" periodically throughout the service.

    Akonjee, 55, and Uddin, 64, were walking home from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque at about 1:50 p.m on Saturday when they were shot and killed. 

    Local political leaders, including Mayor de Blasio, addressed the crowd gathered for the service Monday.

    Emotions ran high. Some people shouted for justice as a man spoke at the podium. People cheered when de Blasio assured them whoever committed the crime will be brought to justice. 

    Surveillance video obtained by NBC 4 New York shows the moment the two men were gunned down on an Ozone Park street.

    The video shows a lone gunman approach both men from behind and fire shots from a handgun. The suspect then sprints away from the scene as both victims fall to the ground. 

    A sketch of the shooter released by police early Sunday shows a dark-haired, bearded man wearing glasses.

    Both victims were shot in the head at point-blank range, police said. The suspect was seen fleeing the scene southbound on 79 street with the gun still in his hand.

    Investigators hadn't established a motive for the shootings, said NYPD Deputy Inspector Hank Sautner during a news conference.

    The shooting has struck fear in an Ozone Park Muslim community. 

    "We usually look left and right and to the front to be careful. But now we have to look in the back. How do you do that?" Kobir Chowdhury said.

    Akonjee's sister-in-law, Ifia Uddin, had seen the imam earlier on Saturday. She said that when her husband called her to tell her the news, she was shocked and didn't believe him. She said she's heartbroken. 

    "I just want justice, that's it," Uddin said. "Everybody wants that." 

    Akonjee’s son-in-law, Momin Ahmed, said the community is struggling to make sense of the killing of such a beloved man.

    "Everybody's not doing very good," Ahmed said. "He's the greatest guy. I've been married for 13 years. So since that, we've been talking every day. He calls me every few hours." 

    The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the shootings. 

    "The perpetrator of these senseless killings must be swiftly apprehended and face the full force of the law," said Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the organization's New York chapter. "We ask anyone with information about this attack to contact appropriate law enforcement authorities."

    The Bangladesh State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Shahriar Alam, posted a message on Twitter calling the shooting a "cowardly act on peace-loving people."