“This was a hate crime. There is nothing else … He did his job. He did not make political statements. His job was here.”
A man has been charged with murder over the brazen gunning down of a Muslim cleric and his assistant on a New York street.
Officers said Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with two counts of murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Officers took Mr Morel into custody late Sunday night outside a Brooklyn apartment as he approached a vehicle that police had linked to an unrelated hit-and-run and that matched the description of the shooting suspect’s getaway vehicle. He was charged on Monday night.
“Detectives from the Fugitive Task Force Unit approached the car, and then he rammed the detectives’ car several times in an effort to get away,” said the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives, Robert Boyce.
“He was placed under arrest without any further incident and brought back to the precinct for more debriefing.”
Mr Boyce said Mr Morel was seen on surveillance video fleeing the area of the shooting in a black GMC Trailblazer. About 10 minutes later, a car matching that description hit a cyclist in the nearby borough of Brooklyn.
Earlier on Monday, traditional services were held for for Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and his assistant, Thara Uddin, 64, who served at the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens.
Hundreds of Muslims from across the city attended a ceremony in a large car park where funeral prayers were held and members of the community urged action.
Reuters said that speaker after speaker at the event implored law enforcement to investigate the murders as a hate crime and step up efforts to protect those sections of the city where many Muslims live and work.
“We want justice,” Badrul Kahn, founder of the Al-Furqan mosque and its chief adviser, shouted to the crowd in the service’s opening speech. “We want justice,” responded the mourners.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, addressing the funeral, promised that the city would bolster the police presence in the neighborhood even though the motive behind the killings was still unclear.
“We don’t know what happened but we will,” the mayor said. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
Members of the mosque, which largely serves migrants from Bangladesh, were adamant that it was a hate crime. They said there was no other possible motive for the attack. Other residents said they believed it was possible the attack was a robbery that had gone wrong.
“This was a hate crime. There is nothing else,” Mr Khan told The Independent. “He did his job. He did not make political statements. His job was here.”