After he was pulled over by New Mexico police, the suspect in the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque denied any connection to the crimes that shook the city and its small Muslim community – and told authorities he was so unnerved by the violence that he was driving to Houston to look for a new home, court documents said.
Charging documents released Wednesday revealed new details about the suspect, Muhammad Syed, 51, who has been charged in two of the slayings. Police have said they are gathering evidence in two additional cases before charges are filed.
“This has been a tough week for our community, but we all pitched in to solve these crimes and protect a community that felt like it was under attack," Albuquerque police Chief Harold Medina said.
Police received multiple tips about the suspect and his vehicle that eventually led to his arrest, charging documents say. Syed, a native of Afghanistan who police say immigrated to the U.S. about five years ago, was taken into custody Monday after a traffic stop more than 100 miles away from his southeast Albuquerque home.
Here’s what we know:
ALBUQUERQUE SLAYINGS: Police in New Mexico arrest suspect in string of killings of Muslim men
Who is Muhammad Syed? Suspect denies involvement
Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was charged in two of the killings. He was charged in the death of Aftab Hussein on July 26 and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain on Aug. 1.
Albuquerque police believe the suspect killed the first victim while hiding in a bush near the victim's vehicle, an arrest affidavit says. Police say the second victim may have been killed in a drive-by shooting. Investigators linked bullet casings from both crime scenes to guns owned by the suspect, court documents say.
Charges in the first killing, of Mohammad Ahmadi on Nov. 7, and Friday's fatal shooting of Naeem Hussain, haven't been filed.
A handcuffed Syed, wearing a red jumpsuit and orange sandals, appeared in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Wednesday. He was ordered to remain in jail until an upcoming detention hearing.
As authorities prepared to search Syed's home Monday, they saw him driving a vehicle that was spotted fleeing one of the shootings, an arrest affidavit says.
Before Syed's arrest, authorities had sought the public’s help locating a Volkswagen Jetta after a witness saw the car immediately following the fatal shooting of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, court documents say.
Police saw Syed leave his home Monday and followed him to Santa Rosa, about 110 miles east of Albuquerque. When they pulled him over, police found a 9mm pistol in his car – the same kind of weapon police say was used in at least one of the killings, an arrest affidavit says. Bullet casings were also found lodged near the windshield and the hood of the car, the document says.
Syed told police he planned to relocate to Houston “because the situation in Albuquerque was bad,” the arrest warrant says.
Police found clothing, shoes and a "pistol or handgun" in his car, the warrant says. Syed, who claimed no one else used the gun, told police he owned an AK-47 and that he likes the weapon because he had one while living in Afghanistan. He told a detective he fought the Taliban in Afghanistan, an arrest affidavit says.
Syed denied involvement in the killings, though he said knew two of the victims, Naeem Hussain, since 2016, and that he recognized Aftab Hussein from parties in the community, the charging document says.
Rifles, handguns found in suspect's car, home
After tips led police to Syed, investigators found that he and his sons had purchased several weapons in recent months.
The suspect bought an AK-47-style rifle in July, and purchased both a scope for it and a new hammer for the weapon in May, an arrest affidavit said. He also bought a 9mm pistol in January 2021, according to an arrest warrant.
The search warrant shows police searched the home and found two rifles, one owned by one of his sons. When questioned, one of Syed's sons told police that no one was "allowed to touch or take his father's guns."
Investigators say they were able to match bullet casings found at the shooting scenes to ones fired from the weapons.
One of the weapons found during the search led authorities on Wednesday to arrest one of his sons, Shaheen Syed. He was charged by federal prosecutors with providing a false Florida address when he bought two rifles last year, federal court documents show. He has denied any role in the killings and has not been charged in connection with them.
Suspect had string of previous arrests
CNN interviewed Syed’s daughter shortly before the announcement of his arrest. She said her husband was friends with two of the men who were killed. She also acknowledged her father initially was upset about her 2018 marriage but recently had been more accepting.
“My father is not a person who can kill somebody,” the woman told CNN, which did not disclose her identity to protect her safety. “My father has always talked about peace. That’s why we are here in the United States. We came from Afghanistan, from fighting, from shooting.”
In 2017, a boyfriend of Syed’s daughter reported to police that Syed, his wife and one of their sons had pulled him out of a car, punching and kicking him before driving away, according to court documents. The boyfriend, who was found with a bloody nose, scratches and bruises, told police that he was attacked because they did not want her in a relationship with him.
Syed was arrested in May 2018 after a fight with his wife turned violent, court documents said. Prosecutors said both cases were later dismissed after the victims declined to press charges.
Syed also was arrested in 2020 after he was accused of refusing to pull over for police after running a traffic light, but that case was eventually dismissed, court documents said.
'Interpersonal conflict' and a potential motive?
Police were still investigating possible motives Wednesday, including an unspecified “interpersonal conflict" the suspect may have had with one or more of the victims.
When asked specifically whether Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was angry that his daughter married a Shiite Muslim, Deputy Police Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock did not respond directly. He said “motives are still being explored fully to understand what they are.”
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico, acknowledged that "there was a marriage,” but he cautioned against coming to conclusions about the motivation of the suspect, who he said attended the center’s mosque “from time to time.”
The exact nature of the relationships between Syed and the victims – and the victims to one another – is still unclear, but police said they continue to investigate how they crossed paths before the shootings.
Will Syed be charged with a hate crime?
Officials said the victims were of the same race and religion. Police have not said whether Syed could face hate-crime charges.
Prosecutors expect to file murder charges in state court and are considering adding a federal case, authorities said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Albuquerque Muslim slayings: Suspect denied involvement, documents say