NYC leaders urge calm over fear after fatal shooting of Queens imam

An imam and another Muslim leader were fatally shot in New York City Saturday, and the city's leaders and Americans around the country are offering their support to local Muslims worried by the shooting.

Craig Ruttle/AP
In this Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, photo, people gather near a crime scene for a demonstration after the leader of a New York City mosque and an associate were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers Saturday. Police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Tharam Uddin, were shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens shortly before 2 p.m.

Two Muslim leaders were fatally shot on Saturday as they left afternoon prayers at a mosque in Queens, New York, and police are still working to find the shooter.

Police, city leaders, and Americans on social media are promising support and a thorough investigation into the shooting, which Muslims in the area worry is the result of a recent increase in levels of suspicion and fear.

"I understand the fear because I feel it myself," Sarah Sayeed, the Muslim community liaison for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, told the Associated Press.

She attended a rally Saturday night where 100 people gathered to express fears of a faith-based hate crime and call for justice.

"I understand the anger," Ms. Sayeed said. "But it’s very important to mount a thorough investigation.”

Maulama Akonjee, who had led the Bangladeshi Muslim community since his arrival in Queens nearly two years ago and is married with children, was shot while walking with another Muslim leader Thara Uddin.

“He would not hurt a fly,” the imam's nephew Rahi Majid, told the New York Daily News. “You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings.”

The pair received prompt treatment at a nearby hospital, but they died later on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported. The shooter fled the scene.

"There's nothing in the preliminary investigation to indicate that they were targeted because of their faith," Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner of the New York Police Department said in a statement, adding that investigators are even now "conducting an extensive canvass of the area for video and additional witnesses."

Some frightened members have blamed the political rhetoric of Republican nominee Donald Trump for the incident and are calling for a thorough investigation.

"We are calling for all people, of all faiths, to rally with compassion and with a sense of vigilance so that justice can be served," Afaf Nasher, executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Reuters. “You can’t go up to a person and shoot them in the head and not be motivated by hatred.”

The shooting comes in a year that Muslim leaders describe as a second watershed moment for American Muslims, The Christian Science Monitor has reported previously.

"The immediate post-9/11 time is now perceived as the 'good days' for being Muslims," Khalid Griggs, the imam of a North Carolina mosque. Being good citizens and good employees isn't enough. “Many have come to the realization that [public displays of Muslim American patriotism are] not going to make any difference in terms of proving their loyalty to this country," he says.

Americans from around the country, inspired by the #IllRideWithYou that aimed to support Muslims after the terror of the Sydney siege in 2014, have promised to help Muslims overcome the fear they feel after the shooting.

Using the hashtag #IllWalkWithYou, these Americans urged Muslims not to be afraid to walk to and from the mosque.

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