Imam shot dead as he leaves afternoon prayers

Imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin died in a shooting as they left a mosque in the Queens area of New York after prayers. Picture: AP
Imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin died in a shooting as they left a mosque in the Queens area of New York after prayers. Picture: AP
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A mosque leader and his friend have been shot dead as they left afternoon prayers in New York.

The shootings set off fear and anguish among the community’s Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants.

Community members pray outside the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in Ozone Park after the shooting.

Community members pray outside the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in Ozone Park after the shooting.

Police said no motive had been established for the killing of Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and 64-year-old Thara Uddin near the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque.

However community members were worried the killings could be rooted in intolerance.

“There’s nothing in the preliminary investigation to indicate that they were targeted because of their faith,” said Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner.

The imam’s daughter, Naima Akonjee, said her father - described by worshippers as a pious man who gave compelling readings from the Koran - did not “have any problems with anyone”.

She said the imam and Mr Uddin were close friends who always walked together to the mosque from their homes on the same street.

Police said the men were shot in the head as they left the mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens shortly before 2pm on Saturday. They were later pronounced dead.

Video surveillance showed they were approached from behind by a man in a dark polo shirt and shorts who shot them and fled south on 79th Street still holding the gun.

Police released a sketch of a dark-haired, bearded man wearing glasses and said witnesses described the gunman as a man with a medium complexion.

Members of the Bangladeshi Muslim community served by the mosque said they want the shootings to be treated as a hate crime and a rally was held on Saturday night.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference near the shooting scene, where Kobir Chowdhury, a leader at another local mosque, said: “Read my lips: This is a hate crime” directed at Islam.

“We are peace-loving.”

Sarah Sayeed, a member of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s staff who liaises with Muslim communities, attended the rally.

“I understand the fear because I feel it myself,” she said. “I understand the anger. But it’s very important to mount a thorough investigation.”

Letitia James, the city’s public advocate who serves as a watchdog over city agencies, said: “This violence is as alarming as it is senseless.”

She urged the police department to “vigorously” investigate the killings.

Members of the community had felt animosity lately, with people cursing while passing the mosque, said worshipper Shahin Chowdhury.