NEW YORK — The leader of a New York City mosque and an associate were fatally shot in a brazen daylight attack as they left afternoon prayers Saturday.
The police said 55-year-old Imam Maulama Akonjee and his 64-year-old associate, Thara Uddin, were each shot in the back of the head as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in the Ozone Park section of Queens shortly before 2 p.m.
Both men were pronounced dead later Saturday, an administrator at Jamaica Hospital said.
No one is in custody.
Police said no motive has been established and that there’s no reason to believe the men were shot because they were Muslim.
“There’s nothing in the preliminary investigation to indicate that they were targeted because of their faith,” said Deputy Inspector Henry Sautner of the New York Police Department.
Sautner said video surveillance shows the victims were approached from behind by a man in a dark polo shirt and shorts who shot them and then fled with the gun still in his hand.
The imam’s daughter, Naima Akonjee, said her father and Uddin were close friends who always walked together to the mosque from their homes on the same street.
Members of the Bangladeshi community served by the mosque said they want the shootings to be treated as a hate crime.
More than 100 people attending a rally at the shooting site Saturday night chanted, “We want justice!”
Sarah Sayeed, a member of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s staff, serves as a liaison to Muslim communities and attended the rally.
“I understand the fear because I feel it myself,” Sayeed said. “I understand the anger. But it’s very important to mount a thorough investigation.”
Khaled Rahman, who also was there, said he believes the shootings were an attack “against our religion” and hopes police increase security around mosques.
Shahin Chowdhury, a worshiper at the mosque, said members of the community had felt animosity lately, with people cursing while passing the mosque. He said he had advised fellow community members to be careful walking around, especially when in traditional clothing.
He called the imam a “wonderful person” with a voice that made his Koran readings especially compelling.
Another worshiper, Millat Uddin, said Akonjee had led the mosque for about two years and was a very pious man.
“The community’s heart is totally broken,” said Uddin, who is not related to Thara Uddin. “It’s a great misery. It’s a great loss to the community, and it’s a great loss to the society.”
Neighbors also described Thara Uddin as a pious and thoughtful man who prayed five times a day and went to the mosque. While at home, they said he would water his garden and one next door.
“A very honest, wise man … a a very helpful guy,” said neighbor Mohammed Uddin, who is not a relation of Thara Uddin.
The imam’s daughter said her father didn’t have “any problems with anyone.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, held a news conference near the shooting scene, where Kobir Chowdhury, a leader of another mosque, said, “Read my lips: This is a hate crime.”