Suspect accused of killing Muslim men in Albuquerque found guilty of murder

A man who was accused of killing three Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2022, sparking widespread fear in the Islamic community, was found guilty of murder on Monday.

Muhammad Syed was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 41-year-old Aftab Hussein, according to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.

At trial, prosecutors said Syed used an AK-47 to shoot Hussein at least nine times from behind a wall and some bushes, according to CNN affiliate KOAT.

Syed’s attorney, Thomas Clark, said there was “not one shred of evidence that links this man to firing this gun,” KOAT reported.

Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before coming to the guilty verdict, according to the district attorney’s office spokesperson, Nancy Laflin.

Syed, an immigrant from Afghanistan, faces a sentence of life in prison. He is also set to face separate trials for the murders of the other two men, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Naeem Hussain.

David Waymire, one of the prosecuting attorneys, told KOAT he was happy with the verdict. Still, he said the motive behind the killings remained unclear.

“There is only minimal conjecture on the possible motive. As best we can tell, the motive in this may truly be a random, serial killer-type of mentality we’ll never understand,” he said.

Defense attorney Megan Mitsunaga said she respected the jury’s decision “but we are understandably disappointed on behalf of our client.”

Outside of court, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, the brother of victim Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said the verdict brought some solace to himself and others in the community.

“The Muslim community at large, at least, (has) relief that the person who was the killer, who became a bad name for the community … is behind (bars), and at least no other brother, no other son, no other family member will become a victim of this person,” he said.

Syed accused of a spree of killings

The cases date to the summer of 2022, when three Muslim men in Albuquerque were gunned down within the span of a few weeks, sparking grief and fear in the community and questions about whether the killings were motivated by hate.

Aftab Hussein was found dead on July 26 with multiple gunshot wounds lying next to a car, police said. Detectives learned the gunman had waited behind a bush near the driveway where the victim usually parked his vehicle and fired multiple times through the bush, according to a criminal complaint.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was found on August 1 with multiple gunshot wounds by officers who responded to reports of a drive-by shooting, according to the complaint.

Further, Naeem Hussain, 25, was shot and killed in his car before midnight on August 5, according to authorities. He had recently become a US citizen and had attended a funeral for two of the shooting victims hours before his death.

As police investigated the case, they looked into whether the killings were connected to the November 7, 2021, murder of Mohammad Ahmadi, an Afghan man who was found with a gunshot wound in the parking lot behind the business he ran with his brother. (As of Monday, no arrest has been made in Ahmadi’s case, Waymire said.)

Ahmadi, Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain were “ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed,” Kyle Hartsock, deputy commander of Albuquerque Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division, said at the time.

Days after the attack on Naeem Hussain, police released a photo of a “vehicle of interest” they said was connected to the killings. Syed was pulled over and detained in that vehicle near Santa Rosa, New Mexico, about 120 miles east of Albuquerque, according to police.

Syed told police “he was driving to Texas to find a new place for his family to live because the situation in Albuquerque was bad,” referring to the killings of Muslim men, the affidavit said.

Authorities also conducted a search warrant at his home, where they found firearms, police said.

One of the firearms recovered in his home has been linked to bullet casings found at the scenes of two of the killings, while casings for a handgun found in his car when he was stopped were linked to one of the scenes, according to the arrest affidavit.

CNN spoke to the suspect’s daughter hours before his arrest was announced in 2022. She said the family, originally from Afghanistan, had been in the US for about six years.

CNN’s Ashley Killough, Ed Lavandera, Christina Maxouris, Nouran Salahieh and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.

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