A Brooklyn man taken into custody in East New York late on Sunday has been charged in the killing of imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant Thara Uddin outside the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park, Queens, on Saturday. Oscar Morel is charged two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, police said Monday night.
On Saturday afternoon, the gunman walked up behind the imam and his assistant and shot both in the back of the head at point-blank range. Surveillance footage showed him getting into a Chevy TrailBlazer after the shooting, police said. Ten minutes later, there was a reported hit-and-run about three miles away involving a bicyclist and an SUV matching the killer’s vehicle. Police said they were able to track the car to East New York, where they took Morel into custody around 11pm.
An unnamed police official told the New York Times that investigators found what they believe is the murder weapon—a revolver—in Morel’s apartment, hidden inside a wall. According to the New York Post, Morel denies the accusations.
“Because of the evidence so far, we strongly believe this is the individual,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said on Monday, although investigators haven’t yet determined a motive. “We’re still drilling down on it,” Boyce said. However, it’s “certainly on the table that it’s a hate crime.”
“The only time we ever felt anything was 9/11,” Alvin Morel said. “We felt that same anger. We all had a hatred.”
Police have not yet speculated on a motive, but Morel’s brother insisted that his anger at Muslims over 9/11 was only “temporary” and he now “definitely has no hate for the Muslims.”
“We’re Catholic-school kids — we don’t do this,” Alvin added. “He’s a good guy.”
“Right now, we can’t explain why this person was there. He was there just prior to [the shooting],” Boyce said. “We have him on video about eight minutes prior to the homicide.”