ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Members of New Mexico’s Muslim community pushed Thursday for the Afghan refugee suspected of killing four Muslim men to remain behind bars pending trial – citing previous accusations of domestic violence and video surveillance that appeared to show him slashing the tires of a vehicle parked outside the local mosque.
The video from early 2020 had prompted leaders of the Islamic Center of New Mexico at the time to admonish Muhammad Syed and tell him not to return to the mosque.
The woman whose tires were slashed never went to the police and charges were never filed, said Ahmad Assed, the Islamic center’s president.
But nearly two years later, her brother-in-law became one of the victims. Muhammad Zahir Ahmadi was fatally shot last November behind the market he owned with his brother.
Police have named Syed, 51, as the primary suspect in Ahmadi’s death and in the fatal shooting of another man in early August. Authorities already have charged him with two counts of murder in the deaths of two other Muslim men in recent weeks.
Syed was detained this week and is scheduled to appear in court Monday, when a state judge will consider a motion by prosecutors seeking to detain Syed without bond pending trial. Prosecutors have argued that Syed is dangerous and that no conditions of release will ensure the community’s safety.
Syed denied any connection to the crimes that shook the city and its small Muslim community after he was arrested during a traffic stop, saying he was heading to Houston to find a new home for his family over fear about the killings.
His public defenders declined comment on the case Thursday except to say that they were reviewing evidence and preparing for Monday’s hearing.
“Given the level of media attention, we need to be very careful to not let this case be tried in the public forum and not a court of law,” said Tom Clark, one of Syed’s state appointed attorneys.
Assed and other members of the city’s Muslim community said they were working with law enforcement to try to keep Syed in custody.
Despite police saying personal conflicts might be part of the motive for the killings, Assed said in an interview that Muslims are struggling to understand why the men who were killed were targeted and that the killings raised questions and concerns about whether more attacks had been planned.
“It’s certainly our concern for this community as we move forward and it’s a concern because not knowing more about the motive, we are at a disadvantage in understanding whether that was what was planned, that was it, or whether more victims were on the radar,” Assed said.
Syed was arrested late Monday more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from his Albuquerque home. He told authorities he was on his way to Texas, citing the ambush-style killings as his concern. The first killing in November was followed by three between July 26 and Aug. 5.
According to a criminal complaint, police determined that bullet casings found in Syed’s vehicle matched the caliber of the weapons believed to have been used in two of the killings and that casings found at the crime scenes were linked to guns found at Syed’s home and in his vehicle.
Police said they received more than 200 tips and one from the Muslim community that led them to the Syed family. Syed knew the victims, authorities have said.
Syed has lived in the United States for about five years. When interviewed by detectives, Syed said he had fought against the Taliban, according to a criminal complaint filed in court Tuesday.
He lived in an apartment in Albuquerque with family members who told reporters that he was a truck driver but hadn’t worked for a company in a long time.
Court documents show the domestic violence allegations Syed was accused of involved separate altercations with his wife, a son and his future son-in-law. The cases were dismissed because the victims declined to press charges.
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