NEW YORK: 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 over the weekend.
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, who police said hit a bicyclist with his SUV just 10 minutes after Saturday’s shooting in Queens, was taken into custody late Sunday night, said the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, Robert Boyce.
Morel could be seen on the surveillance video fleeing the area of the shooting in a black GMC Trailblazer right after Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Uddin were shot in the head, Boyce said.
About 10 minutes later, a car matching that description struck a bicyclist about three miles away in Brooklyn, he said.
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 the Brooklyn man were upgraded Monday night after police said they recovered a revolver at his home and clothes similar to those being worn in a surveillance video that showed the gunman.
Earlier Monday, about 1,000 people gathered under tents to praise imam Akonjee, 55, and Thara 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.