A New York resident was convicted of killing a Bangladeshi-American Muslim cleric and his associate in 2016, a crime considered symptomatic of rising Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric in the US.
“Oscar Morel of Brooklyn was convicted…of first-degree murder and other charges for the broad-daylight execution of Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and his associate and friend Thara Uddin, 64,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown stated.
“The two men (Imam Maulana Akonjee and Thara Uddin) were gunned down as they walked home following prayers at the Al-furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Queens in August 2016,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement.
Brown also expressed hope that the verdict would bring some closure to the family and many friends of the two men killed.
Slaying struck at heart of Muslim community of Queens: Brown
Describing the killings as a “senseless act of gun violence” carried out in the middle of the afternoon in a close-knit neighborhood filled with families, Brown said, “Morel’s actions caused immeasurable grief not only to the victims’ families, but…(also) the Muslim community of Queens.”
37-year-old Morel was convicted following a nearly three-week-long trial before Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak.
Jurors deliberated for about a day and found Morel guilty of one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
Morel will be sentenced next month and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
CAIR-NYMuslim civil rights body welcomes Morel’s conviction
The New York chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), the state’s leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, welcomed Morel’s conviction, saying the brutal crime corresponded with a nationwide surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes, triggered massive demonstrations, and gained worldwide attention.
CAIR-NY, the civil counsel for the Akonjee and Uddin families, exposed gratitude that Morel was brought to justice for the horrific crime.
“Maulana and Thara came to this country in search of a better life, instead they found Morel’s hatred. Nothing can ever replace what Morel took…but this verdict helps show that this city will never accept this sort of heartbreaking violence,” CAIR-NY stated.
CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said many lives were seriously impacted with the grief and continuing consequences of losing their loved ones.
The IncidentHow exactly were the Muslim men killed?
According to trial testimony, Akonjee and Thara were returning home from prayers when Morel approached them from the rear, pointing a .38 caliber revolver at their heads.
Morel fired several shots and fled the scene. The Imam was hit four times in the head and body. Uddin was shot once in the head. Both men were rushed to a nearby hospital, where they died.
Video surveillance showed Morel exit a black SUV and run toward the victims off-camera; moments later he was seen running back to his vehicle and leaving the area.
The firearm was later recovered from Morel’s home. Forensic analysis confirmed that the bullets that killed the Imam and Uddin were fired from the revolver hidden behind a kitchen wall in the defendant’s Brooklyn apartment.
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