Murders by Muslims in Albuquerque Arouse Sectarian Spirits

Mr. Syed was clearly angry, Mr. Hadi said, and personally came to the store three times to threaten the family. Mr. Syed would call the brothers “kafir.” The word, intended to be derogatory, refers to unbelievers who understand religion but choose to hide from it. Popularized in Saudi Arabia to denigrate Shia Muslims, the term was later adopted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“When we told him to leave, he would just go to his car and wait for us in the parking lot for hours,” Mr. Hadi said. “We called the police, but they didn’t show up.”

The police said they have no records of such requests for assistance. But in February 2020, surveillance footage from the Islamic Center of New Mexico showed Mr. Syed slashing the tires on the car Mr. Hadi’s wife had parked there outside the mosque. Mosque leaders told Mr. Syed to stay away, and he did so for months.

Mr Syed is now charged with murder in the murders of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, and police said they were still collecting their files on the other two murders. Afghan community leaders have said they are relieved that a suspect has been identified, but some are hesitant to attribute the killings to sectarian violence; the reasons for murder, they learned after decades of war, are often too complex to fit simple labels.

Salim Anseri, a leader of the city’s Afghan community who knew both Mr Syed and all of the victims, is among those not ready to pass judgment. “Maybe he’s mentally ill, or he had personal problems with the victims,” ​​he said of Mr. Syed. “As far as I can tell, it was personal issues.”

Such differences matter little to Mr. Hadi. Between tears, he said he still struggled to get back to the place where his brother’s life ended so abruptly.

“I still see him every day when I come to work,” Mr. Hadi said. “But he’s dead. Nothing will bring him back.”

Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett research contributed.

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