NEW YORK –
A New York neighborhood teetered on edge as it struggled to pinpoint the reasons behind a gunman’s deadly daytime attack on an imam and his helper near their mosque.
A 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee, and 64-year old Thara Uddin his helper, were shot at point-blank range just before 2 pm (1800 GMT) Saturday in the Ozone Park neighborhood in the borough of Queens, said police.
The aim is not known and no arrests have been made, the authorities said.
“There is nothing in the preliminary investigation to suggest that they were targeted because of their religion,” police told journalists.
Nonetheless, Muslim community representatives pointed to growing Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by a number of fatal attacks in the United States and abroad as well as hostile statements by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, including his proposition for a temporary prohibition on Muslims entering the country.
Security video footage of the brazen attack shows the gunman approach the two men at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 79th Street from behind, a few blocks from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque.
The victims, dressed in traditional Muslim garb, supposedly left the mosque following Saturday afternoon prayers.
After the attack witnesses saw the gunman flee the scene with a firearm, police said, adding that the surveillance video appeared to reveal a man wearing shorts and a polo shirt that was dark.
A sketch of the suspect early Sunday released showed a dark haired, bearded man wearing spectacles. Police said he was described by witnesses .
Akonjee was carrying more than $1,000, police said, but noticed that the attacker didn’t take the cash.
Both victims were pronounced dead there and were taken to nearby Jamaica Hospital with gunshot wounds.
The investigation is continuing and the suspect was at large Sunday, police said.
– Hate crime? –