Authorities have arrested 51-year-old Muhammad Syed as a suspect in the killings of two Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they said Tuesday – slayings that along with two other killings of Muslim men in recent months have put the city’s Islamic community on edge.
Hours before the announcement of the arrest, CNN had been allowed into Syed’s home and had spoken to his daughter as the family was still cleaning up after investigators, she said, executed a search warrant the prior night. Living room rugs were tossed around, and the contents of drawers had been strewn about. The flag of Afghanistan – from where Syed and his family moved several years ago – hung prominently in the living room.
In the home, authorities found firearms, along with information showing Syed may have known the victims “to some extent” and interpersonal conflict may have led to the killings, police said Tuesday.
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.
Police haven’t yet determined a motive for the killings, they have said.
Syed denied any involvement in the killings during an interview with police on Tuesday, according to the arrest affidavit.
The daughter’s husband was friends with two of the men who were killed, Aftab Hussein and Naeem Hussain, she told CNN, which has chosen not to name her out of concern for her safety. Her father was not happy when she got married in February 2018 but had come to accept the union more recently, she said.
The woman, one of Syed’s six children, said her father was home during the shootings but could not offer proof.
“My father is not a person who can kill somebody. My father has always talked about peace. That’s why we are here in the United States. We came from Afghanistan, from fighting, from shooting,” she told CNN.
The daughter said her father, who works as a truck driver, also drives a gray Volkswagen Jetta. Albuquerque police previously released images of a gray Volkswagen sedan, appearing to be a Jetta, that they called a “vehicle of interest” in the killings.
Syed left his home in his vehicle Monday night, telling his family he was going to Texas to find a place for them, fearful of the recent shootings that had taken place in the Muslim community, his daughter said.
Authorities, acting on a tip from the public, had been preparing to execute a search warrant on Syed’s home Monday night when they saw him get into his car and followed him, deputy commander of the Albuquerque Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division Kyle Hartsock said in a Tuesday news conference.
Syed was pulled over and detained near Santa Rosa, New Mexico, about 120 miles east of Albuquerque and roughly halfway to the Texas border.
Meanwhile, police executed the search warrant in Syed’s home and found multiple firearms, Hartsock said.
Officials plan to charge Syed with two homicides – the killings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain – they said, and are working with the district attorney on potential charges for the August 5 killing of Naeem Hussain and the November killing of Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi, Hartsock said.
There is evidence “strong enough that” authorities are continuing to view Syed as the “most likely person of interest or suspect” in those killings as well, Hartsock said.
The family has been in the US for roughly six years, the daughter said.
Hartsock confirmed Syed is from Afghanistan, saying he had “a few minor misdemeanor arrests (from the Albuquerque Police Department) from domestic violence” in the last several years and some other incidents, adding, “That’s our only known history with him locally.”
All three previous domestic violence charges Syed faced were dismissed, Hartsock said.
The four Muslim men were killed in Albuquerque between November and this month – the latest three within a span of two weeks. All victims were of South Asian descent, and an arrest affidavit obtained Tuesday by CNN affiliate KOAT provided more details on two of the killings.
Aftab Hussein was found July 26 with multiple gunshot wounds, lying next to a car, according to police. Detectives learned the gunman had waited behind a bush near the driveway where the victim usually parked his vehicle, then fired through the bush multiple times when Hussein got out of his vehicle, according to the complaint.
On August 1, police got a call about a drive-by shooting and found Muhammud Afzaal Hussain with multiple gunshot wounds, the complaint states.
Ashley Killough and Ed Lavandera reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Christina Maxouris wrote from Atlanta.