Suspect in New Mexico Muslim killings detained pending trial

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Afghan refugee charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men and suspected in the killing of two others was ordered held without bond pending trial as prosecutors argued Wednesday that he was a danger to his own family and the greater community.

Prosecutors during a detention hearing pointed to Muhammad Syed's previous record, which included allegations of domestic violence and a case in which he refused to stop for law enforcement after running a red light. Charges in those cases were eventually dropped, but they argued that Syed's history showed a pattern of violence.

“The defendant is really incapable of following any sort of lawful orders or incapable of following the law, period,” said John Duran, an assistant district attorney. “The defendant has really no regard for any law. It seems apparent he has further no regard for any human life.”

Syed, 51, has denied any involvement in the killings that shook New Mexico’s Muslim community and his defense attorneys argued that he had no criminal record since the previous cases were not pursued. They also tried to argue that he was not a flight risk and had lived at the same address for two years.

Judge Joseph Montano denied a bid by Syed's attorneys to have the defendant placed on house arrest, finding that no conditions of release would prevent him from leaving his home or from committing a crime.

The judge also pointed to a criminal complaint that accused Syed of lying in wait for the victims and the ballistic evidence amassed by investigators so far.

“The weight of the evidence here is high,” Montano said.

Syed was arrested Aug. 8 more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from his Albuquerque home. He told authorities he was on his way to Texas, citing the ambush-style killings as his concern.

Police said they received more than 200 tips and one from the Muslim community led them to the Syed family. Syed knew the victims, authorities have said.

Syed is charged with murder in the deaths of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. Hussein, 41, was slain on the night of July 26 after parking his car in the usual spot near his home. Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner who had worked on the campaign of a New Mexico congresswoman, was gunned down on Aug. 1 while taking his evening walk.

Syed is the primary suspect — but hasn’t been charged — in the death of Naeem Hussain, 25, who was shot Aug. 5 in the parking lot of a refugee resettlement agency in southeast Albuquerque, and the slaying of Muhammad Zahir Ahmadi, a 62-year-old Afghan immigrant who was fatally shot in the head last November behind the market he owned in the city.

According to the criminal complaint filed by Albuquerque police, investigators determined that bullet casings found in Muhammad Syed’s vehicle matched the caliber of the weapons believed to have been used in two of the killings and that casings found at the crime scenes were linked to guns found at Syed’s home and in his vehicle.

Federal authorities in court filings have pointed to cell phone records and accused one of Syed's sons of possibly helping his father track Naeem Hussain before he was killed. Shaheen Syed's attorney said those accusations are thin and dismissed prosecutors claims that the younger Syed provided a false address when purchasing a gun from a local shop in 2021.

Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press