Man who murdered New York imam and his assistant was not a hate crime, court says

Oscar Morel (left)

A man from New York was convicted of first-degree murder last Friday for the brutal killing of a Bangladeshi imam and his elderly assistant in broad daylight.

A state Supreme Court jury convicted Oscar Morel, 37, for the shootings of Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and his 64-year-old assistant, Thara Uddin.

The men were shot as they walked home following Duhr prayers on Saturday 13 August 2016.

Richard A Brown, district attorney of the borough of Queens, called the killings “a senseless act of gun violence in the middle of the afternoon and carried out in a close-knit neighbourhood filled with families and children”.

Mr Brown said in a statement that he hopes the verdict “will bring some closure to the family and many friends of the two men killed”.

Morel, who is from Brooklyn, was convicted following a nearly three-week-long trial.

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.

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He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced on Wednesday 18 April.

Some members of New York City’s Muslim community called the attack on the two Bangladeshi immigrants a hate crime, but prosecutors said the Morel’s motive was unclear.

Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), issued a statement on behalf of the victims’ families expressing support for the conviction.

The statement read: “Maulana and Thara came to this country in search of a better life, instead they found Morel’s hatred,” the statement said. “Nothing can ever replace what Morel took from us, but this verdict helps show that this city will never accept this sort of heart-breaking violence.”

Prosecutors said Morel approached imam Akonjee and Mr Uddin from behind as they left the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid and shot them both in the head.

The victims were rushed to a hospital, where they died.

Morel was arrested the following day after police connected him to a hit-and-run crash near the shooting scene.

Prosecutors said the police ballistics lab linked a .38-caliber revolver recovered from Morel’s basement to the shootings.

Morel denied involvement in the killings and said he would appeal the verdict.

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