Afghan refugee convicted of murder in a case that shocked Albuquerque’s Muslim community

Mar 18, 2024, 10:19 AM | Updated: 10:22 am

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Afghan refugee has been found guilty of first-degree murder in one of three fatal shootings that shook Albuquerque’s Muslim community during the summer of 2022.

Jurors returned the verdict Monday.

Muhammad Syed faces to life in prison in the killing of 41-year-old Aftab Hussein on July 26, 2022. He also will stand trial in the coming months in the other two slayings.

During the trial, prosecutors said Syed was deliberate in his actions. They presented cellphone data that showed his phone was in the area when the shooting occurred and that casings and projectiles recovered from the scene had been fired from a rifle that was found at his home.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had no evidence that Syed was the one who pulled the trigger. They said other people who lived in Syed’s home also had access to his phone, the vehicle and the rifle.

Syed declined to testify in his own defense.

The three ambush-style killings happened over the course of several days, leaving authorities scrambling to determine if race or religion might have been behind the crimes. It was not long before the investigation shifted away from possible hate crimes to what prosecutors described as the “willful and very deliberate” actions of another member of the Muslim community.

Syed, who speaks Pashto and required the help of translators throughout the trial, had settled in the U.S. with his family several years earlier. Prosecutors described him during previous court hearings as having a violent history. His public defenders argued that previous allegations of domestic violence never resulted in convictions.

Syed also is accused of killing Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner who was gunned down Aug. 1, 2022, while taking his evening walk, and Naeem Hussain, who was shot four days later as he sat in his vehicle outside a refugee resettlement agency on the city’s south side.

Authorities issued a public plea for help following the third killing. They shared photographs of a vehicle believed to be involved in the crimes, resulting in tips that led to Syed.

Syed denied involvement in the killings after being stopped more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Albuquerque. He told authorities he was on his way to Texas to find a new home for his family, saying he was concerned about the killings in Albuquerque.

The judge prohibited prosecutors from directly introducing as evidence statements Syed made to a detective while being questioned. Defense attorneys argued that Syed’s rights were violated because the detective, through an interpreter, did not adequately inform Syed of his right to a court-appointed attorney.

Police officers and detectives who testified during the trial told jurors about arriving at the scene and finding Hussein lying next to his car with multiple gunshot wounds, from his ear and neck down to his legs, with exit wounds in his feet.

Prosecutors showed photos of Hussein’s bullet-riddled car and said the victim was killed nearly instantly.

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Afghan refugee convicted of murder in a case that shocked Albuquerque’s Muslim community