Gunman Kills Imam and Assistant as They Leave Mosque in Hate Attack

Gunman Kills Imam and Assistant as They Leave Mosque in Hate Attack

A lone gunman executed a revered Queens imam and his friend as the pair walked home from Saturday prayers, blasting each in the back of the head without a word, officials said.

Mosque leader Maulama Akonjee and friend Thara Uddin were dressed in Muslim garb when the killer “approached from behind and shot” from point-blank range, said NYPD Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner of the Queens South Detective Bureau.

Akonjee, 55, a married father of three, was a respected religious leader since his arrival in Queens from Bangladesh less than two years ago. Uddin, 65, died about four hours after the attack.

“We are all crying,” said his brother Mashuk Uddin. “There’s so much crying.”

Scores of worshipers from the mosque gathered within hours at the murder scene to denounce the cold-blooded ambush as a hate crime.

“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.”

A high-ranking police source said the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force would investigate, but it was “too early to say” what the motive was.

A second source said investigators were looking into the possibility of a botched robbery because one of the men was found carrying several hundred dollars.

The shooter left his victims lying in their own blood just one block from the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in Ozone Park, where the two victims prayed together only minutes earlier.

Police sources said they have witnesses who saw the killer holding a gun, as well as security video of the shooter following the imam and his friend. The footage then captures the man sprinting back, this time with a gun in his hand.

The imam’s nephew said Akonjee had no problems with anyone in the neighborhood.

“I’m not sure what kind of an animal would kill that man,” said Rahi Majid, 26. “He would not hurt a fly. You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings.”

The gunshots rang out around 1:55 p.m. on 79th St., police said. Uddin, also a father of three, was lying on the ground bleeding heavily when his nephew arrived by chance at the scene.

The two men were shot on 79th St. near Liberty Ave. about 1:50 p.m., officials said. First responders rushed the pair to Elmhurst Hospital. (David Wexler/For New York Daily News)
The two men were shot on 79th St. near Liberty Ave. about 1:50 p.m., officials said. First responders rushed the pair to Elmhurst Hospital.
(David Wexler/For New York Daily News)

“I was upset. I cried. He’s my uncle,” Rezwan Uddin, 28, said.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene where the silent shooter started blasting at the two unarmed victims in the middle of a blistering August afternoon.

“We are devastated,” said Kobir Chowdhury, president of a different neighborhood mosque. “We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to know if they did this just because of our religion.”

(David Wexler/For New York Daily News)
(David Wexler/For New York Daily News)

Local residents described the imam as a pious, well-regarded member of the community. Akonjee was leaving for Bangladesh in 10 days to attend his son’s wedding, said Ahmed Zakria, a member of the mosque.

The imam was “a very sweet, soft-spoken, humble man,” said Chowdhury, 40. “He’s a role model as an imam, as a father, as a community member. He didn’t have any disputes with anybody.”

A police source said there were no reports of any problems going back several years at the mosque.

The Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park, where the victims had just left after afternoon prayer. (David Wexler/For New York Daily News)
The Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park, where the victims had just left after afternoon prayer.
(David Wexler/For New York Daily News)

A bullet tore through the brain of Uddin, who was on life-support at Jamaica Hospital before passing away, said his brother Mashuk. The victims, both natives of Bangladesh, were apparently headed to Uddin’s house when they were attacked.

“I’m very shocked,” said Mashuk Uddin. “I’m shaking, my whole body. Not any problems with anybody. He just goes to the mosque, prays and goes home.”

Cops and witnesses described the shooter as tall and Hispanic, carrying a large handgun, and wearing a dark blue shirt and shorts.

“I mean, I was scared,” said witness Steven Nauth, 27. “I had my little cousin out here and I told him to run.”

The gunfire erupted near a storage facility and a block away from the elevated A train station, officials said.

“People being shot in the head in broad daylight is unheard of,” said Millat Uddin, a 25-year resident of the neighborhood who is not related to the victim, Thara Uddin. “Killing people brutally, like they’re an animal.”

Roughly 300 angry protesters clogged the streets late Saturday. “This community has been rocked by this crime,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich.

Afterward, they packed into a nearby mosque for an emotional news conference attended by Muslim leaders and a City Hall official.

“Please, read my lips. This is a hate crime no matter which way you look at it,” Chowdhury said.

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