NEW YORK (TIP): New York Police said late on Monday, August 15, that Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder over the deaths of Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, just hours after thousands of mourners gathered for the funeral of the two men.
A police spokesman said Morel was also charged with two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He did not disclose any possible motive for the killings at the briefing.
Police earlier said ‘hate crime’ was being investigated as a possible motive.
Both Akonjee and Uddin were wearing religious clothing when they were shot in the head on Saturday after leaving the Al-Furqan Jame Mosque in the Queens area after mid-afternoon prayers.
“We believe because of the evidence we have acquired thus far that … this is the individual,” Robert Boyce, a New York City Chief Detective, was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying.
Huge crowds lined the streets earlier on Monday as the bodies of Akonjee, a father-of-four, and Uddin were carried aloft during a procession.
Thousands of people marched in protest after the funeral – holding placards reading: “Muslim Lives Matter”.
“We pray here five times a day, we are scared, we need protection,” one mourner told Al Jazeera. “He was dressed like a Muslim; this was a hate crime.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, addressing the funeral, blamed hate and division for the murders and promised to step up protection at mosques and other parts of the city with big Muslim populations.
“There are voices all over this country who are spewing hate, trying to create division and turn one American against another … we’re not going to listen to those voices that try to divide us,” de Blasio said.
Khairul Islam, a local resident, singled out Donald Trump for blame, saying the Republican presidential nominee had incited hatred and fear of Muslims.
“We blame Donald Trump for this. Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia,” he was quoted by local newspaper the Daily News as saying.
Trump has been criticized for several statements his opponents say are Islamophobic, and he has previously called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.