A Muslim imam and his assistant have been shot and killed while walking home from afternoon prayers at a mosque in the New York City borough of Queens.
The men were shot in the head on Saturday on a street in the Ozone Park section of Queens, just one block from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid (mosque), according to witnesses and authorities.
Imam Alala Uddin Akongi was a revered religious leader since his arrival in the city from Bangladesh about two years ago.
His assistant, 64-year-old Thara Uddin, was critically injured and later on succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
Both victims were dressed in Muslim garb when they were attacked, and members of the mosque denounced the attack as a hate crime.
The attacker shot each man in the head at close range and fled the scene on foot.
“That’s not what America is about,” said local resident Khairul Islam, 33. “We blame Donald Trump for this ... Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia.”
Police say they responded to reports of the shooting at 2:00 p.m. Saturday in Ozone Park.
A large number of Muslims gathered at the murder scene, denouncing the shooting as a hate crime.
US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign has been marred by his disparaging remarks against minorities in the US. His comments include a call to ban all Muslims from coming to America as well as forced deportation of Mexican migrants by building a long wall along the US-Mexico border.
He has also been seeking a database to track Muslims across the United States and said that the US would have "absolutely no choice" but to close down mosques.
Trump’s proposal has been condemned by Muslims and human rights groups as well as his Democratic rivals and many of his Republican proponents who describe it as divisive, counterproductive and contrary to American values.
The New York Police Department identified one victim as Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55. According to the Associated Press, the second victim was Thara Uddin, 64, who assisted Akonjee at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque. Both were shot in the head by a man who approached them from behind, police said.
The NYPD said that officers do not believe the Imam and his associate were targeted because of their Muslim faith.
"At this time, it does not look like it has anything to do with their race or their religion," Officer Tiffany Phillips told the Washington Post.
Phillips would not say what police believe might be the motive for the shooting, or what evidence led officers to believe religion was not a likely factor.
Police have interviewed witnesses and have watched surveillance video of a man approaching the victims from behind and fleeing after the shooting, but have made no arrests.Police said the two men were shot at about 1.50pm at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 79th Street, three blocks from the mosque. Phillips said the men were apparently coming from the mosque when they were attacked.
According to AP's report, members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community served by the mosque expressed fears that whoever killed the two men had targeted Muslims, and they called on authorities to treat the shootings as a hate crime.
Scores of people attending a rally at the shooting site Saturday night chanted, "We want justice!" the AP said.
Shahin Chowdhury, a worshipper at the mosque, told the AP that members of the community had felt animosity lately and had heard people cursing while passing the mosque. Chowdhury said he had advised fellow community members to be careful walking around, especially when in traditional clothing.
He called the Imam a "wonderful person" with a voice that made his Koran readings especially compelling, the wire service said.