Muslim Killings in Albuquerque Stir Sectarian Ghosts

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Mr. Syed was clearly angry, Mr. Hadi said, and came to the store in person to threaten the family on three separate occasions. Mr. Syed would call the brothers “kafir.” The word, intended to be derogatory, refers to nonbelievers who understand religion but opt to hide from it. Popularized in Saudi Arabia to denigrate Shiite Muslims, the term was later adopted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“When we’d tell him to leave, he’d just go to his car and sit in the parking lot waiting for us for hours,” Mr. Hadi said. “We called the police but they never showed up.”

The police said they had no record of any such calls for assistance. But in February 2020, surveillance images from the Islamic Center of New Mexico showed Mr. Syed slashing the tires of the car Mr. Hadi’s wife had parked outside the mosque there. Leaders of the mosque told Mr. Syed to stay away, and he did so for months.

Mr. Syed now stands accused of murder in the killings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, and the police said they were still compiling their cases on the other two killings. Leaders of the Afghan community have said they are relieved that a suspect has been identified, but some have been reluctant to ascribe the killings to sectarian violence; the reasons for murder, they learned after decades of war, are often too complicated to fit simple labels.

Salim Anseri, a leader of the city’s Afghan community who knew Mr. Syed as well as all the victims, is one of those who is not ready to make a judgment. “Maybe he’s mentally ill, or had personal issues with the victims,” he said of Mr. Syed. “From what I can tell, it was personal issues.”

For Mr. Hadi, such distinctions matter little. Between fits of tears, he said he still had trouble going back to the spot where his brother’s life ended so abruptly.

“I still see him every day when I come to work,” Mr. Hadi said. “But he’s dead. Nothing is going to bring him back.”

Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.


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