Afghan refugee convicted in New Mexico Muslim killings case

FILE PHOTO: Shock, shame among some Muslims at Afghan arrested for New Mexico killings

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) - A New Mexico jury on Monday found an Afghan asylum seeker guilty of murdering a Pakistani immigrant in one of three ambush-style shootings of Muslim men that terrified the Islamic community in the state's largest city during the summer of 2022.

Muhammad Syed, 53, faces life imprisonment for the first-degree murder of 41-year-old Aftab Hussein who was found dead in southeast Albuquerque on July 26, 2022, next to a vehicle that police said had been shot up.

Syed is charged with the two other 2022 killings that some national Muslim groups and media linked to sectarian violence, but police and Albuquerque's Islamic community blamed on interpersonal feuds.

“As best we can tell, the motive in this may truly be a random serial killer type of mentality that we will never understand,” prosecuting attorney David Waymire told reporters after the verdict.

During the week-long trial, jurors heard how Syed's mobile phone showed he was in the area of the shooting when it happened and an examination of spent cartridges found at the scene matched a semi-automatic rifle found at Syed's home.

Syed is also charged with the Aug. 1, 2022 killing of 27-year-old urban planner Muhammed Afzaal Hussain and the murder of truck driver Naeem Hussain four days later, both on streets near Albuquerque's Central Avenue.

All three men killed were of Pakistani or Afghan descent and prayed with Syed at Albuquerque's largest mosque.

Syed has a record of criminal misdemeanors since he came to the United States, including a case of domestic violence.

He is next expected to stand trial for the murder of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, who was shot at night while walking near his home by the University of New Mexico where he got his master's degree.

"The Muslim community has some relief the person who was the killer is behind bars and no other brother, no other son, will become the victim of that hatemonger," said Hussain's brother Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, adding that a date has yet to be set for the trial.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Nia Williams and Edwina Gibbs)