The weekend killings of a Muslim prayer leader and a fellow Bangladeshi in New York City added to the grief that countrymen back home felt as Bangladesh marked National Mourning Day on Monday.
Imam Maulama Akonjee, 55, and his associate, Thara Uddin, 64, appeared to have been targeted when they were shot dead in the street as they were leaving Saturday afternoon prayers at the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in the Ozone Park section of the borough of Queens, Reuters reported. Ozone Park is home to many Bangladeshi immigrants.
On Monday, the motive for the killings remained unknown.
While public officials in Bangladesh were not immediately available for comment because of the holiday, Pallabi Mosque in Dhaka and other places of worship offered prayers of salvation for the two men’s departed souls.
“We hope that American authorities will maintain the beauty of diversity, which has made them great in the world. So, the wrongdoer should not be spared, I think,” Mafuzur Rahman, a student of world religions at Dhaka University, told BenarNews on Monday.
Bangladesh observes the National Day of Mourning on Aug. 15, the day in 1975 when a group of army officers assassinated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of Bangladesh who was regarded as the father of the nation, and killed most of his family. Rahman’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is the country’s prime minister.
“We condemn killing of Bangladeshi origin Imam in #NYC, cowardly act on peace loving people,” Md. Shariar Ala, Bangladesh’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said in a message posted on Twitter over the weekend.
In New York, American Muslims and Bangladeshi immigrants prayed for the two slain men, whose funeral services took place Monday.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned the shootings.
“The perpetrator of these senseless killings must be swiftly apprehended and face the full force of the law,” said CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher. “We ask anyone with information about this attack to contact appropriate law enforcement authorities.”
On Monday police were questioning a suspect taken into custody Sunday night, according to reports in the New York media. Police were investigating whether a dispute over parking led to the deadly attacks, the New York Daily News reported.
In Dhaka, Mohuddin Ahmed, a former acting foreign secretary, told BenarNews that the men could have been killed for their faith.
He said he trusted the New York Police Department (NYPD) to do a thorough investigation.
“The American police and investigators are highly professional and skilled. They can find the killer and the motives behind the murder. We have to wait until the investigation is over,” Ahmed told BenarNews.
Ahmed expressed concern that Muslims could be targets of hate crimes in the United States, pointing out that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had fomented hate against Muslims, including by calling for a ban against them entering the country.
Earlier, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio had pledged his support for the Muslim community.
“This weekend our city was stung by violence that devastated a congregation and unsettled a community. When religious leaders are targeted, we all bear the pain hose in Ozone Park feel most personally today,” the mayor said in a statement issued Sunday.
“While we do not yet know the motivation for the murders of Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin, we do know that our Muslim communities are in the perpetual crosshairs of bigotry. Rest assured that our NYPD will bring this killer to justice.”
Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.