A Brooklyn man was taken into police custody on the evening of Aug. 15 and charged in connection with the shooting death of a Muslim imam and his assistant, according to local authorities.
Oscar Morel was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the deaths of Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and his assistant, 64-year-old Thara Uddin.
Akonjee and Uddin were both shot in the back of the head shortly after leaving prayer services at Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Ozone Park, Queens, on Aug. 13.
The execution-style killings—in what locals are calling a hate crime—left the highly-populated Bangladeshi community reeling.
“We pray here five times a day, we are scared, we need protection,” one mourner told Al Jazeera. “He was dressed like a Muslim, this was a hate crime.”
The police department refuted those claims.
“There is nothing in the preliminary investigation that would indicate they were targeted because of their faith,” said New York police Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner on Sunday, reported CNN.
According to investigators, video footage showed the alleged assailant leave the crime scene in a black GMC Trailblazer. Officers then learned that on the same day the SUV was involved in a hit-and-run incident involving a cyclist in Brooklyn.
Investigators found the car parked on the street in the East New York section of Brooklyn and waited for the driver to appear. Once Morel appeared and was approached by detectives, he allegedly attempted to flee by ramming his truck into a police car.
Morel worked for the New School as a porter.
“While we are unable to comment on his arrest, we are cooperating fully with the authorities in this matter,” the New School said in a statement, reported the New York Daily News.
Morel’s motives for the killings are unknown.