Suspect of 4 murders in New Mexico left trail of violence

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — In the six years since he moved to the United States from Afghanistan, the prime suspect in the murder of four Muslim men in Albuquerque has been arrested several times for domestic violence and caught on camera cutting the tires on a woman’s car. court documents.

The long-standing pattern of violence — which began not long after Muhammad Syed arrived in the states — has shocked members of the city’s small, tight-knit Muslim community, some of whom knew him from the local mosque and who had initially assumed the killer was a outsider with a prejudice against the Islamic religion. Now they come to terms with the idea that they never really understood the man.

“I think, based on his history now — and we didn’t before — he’s clearly a deranged person. He clearly has a violent tendency,” said Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico.

Police say Syed, 51, knew his victims and was likely motivated by “interpersonal conflict.”

He was arrested Monday night and is still in custody. Prosecutors say he is a dangerous man and plan to ask a judge next week to keep him incarcerated pending trial on charges of murder in connection with two of the shootings. Syed is also the prime suspect in the other two murders, but police say they won’t charge him in those cases as long as he’s in prison and poses no threat to the community. The married father of six has denied involvement in the murders; his lawyers have declined to comment.

Few details have been made public about Syed’s life before he and his family came to America in 2016, but a US government document obtained by The Associated Press says he graduated from Rehman Baba High School in the west in 1990. from Kabul. Between 2010 and 2012, he worked as a cook for the Al Bashar Jala Construction Company.

In December 2012, Syed fled Afghanistan with his wife and children, the report says. The family went to Pakistan, where Syed sought work as a refrigerator technician. A native Pashto speaker who also spoke Dari fluently, he was admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2016.

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The following year, according to court records, a friend of Syed’s daughter claimed that Syed, his wife and one of Syed’s sons had pulled him from a car and beat and kicked him before driving away. The friend, who was found with a nosebleed, cuts and bruises, told police he was attacked because Syed, a Sunni Muslim, did not want his daughter to have a relationship with a Shia man.

Syed was arrested in 2018 after an argument with his wife about her driving. Syed told police his wife hit him in the car, but she said he pulled her hair, threw her to the ground and walked her for two hours to their destination.

Months later, Syed allegedly beat his wife and attacked one of his sons with a large slotted metal spoon that soaked his hair in blood, according to court documents. Syed’s wife told the police that everything was fine. But the son, who called them, told officers that Syed routinely beat him and his mother.

Two of the cases were dropped after the wife and boyfriend refused to press charges. The third was fired after Syed completed a pre-trial intervention program. In 2020, Syed was arrested after allegedly refusing to stop for police after driving at a traffic light, but that case, too, was eventually dropped.

“If you’re trying to understand how violence evolves in a particular person, you should know that he didn’t wake up last year and became a serial killer,” said former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole. “He had experience with violence. And that’s the challenge of law enforcement… to determine what your experience is with violence and when did it start?”

Syed told detectives he had served with the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command, a small elite group of Afghan soldiers who fought the Taliban. He said he liked the AK-47-style weapons police found at his home for using one in Afghanistan.

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Still, the U.S. government’s profile reviewed by the AP didn’t mention any military experience, and Syed turned 40 the year the elite forces were formed in 2011 — probably too old to be selected to fight in the toughest battles.

“That sounds a little weird,” said Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, who has conducted two tours in Afghanistan and is a senior fellow and military expert at the Defense Priorities think tank. He said that while Syed may have been a soldier, “special forces guys are usually 22, 25 years old, maybe 30, because it’s so physically demanding.”

The Syed family lives in a small duplex on the south side of town, a working-class part of town where many of the older homes and apartments have security bars on their doors and windows. The area has become a magnet for Afghan refugees and other immigrants looking for a new home in New Mexico’s largest city.

The killings of the four men — the first in November and the other three in quick succession over a span of less than two weeks in July and the first week in August — sparked a wave of terror in Albuquerque’s roughly 4,500 Muslim community. Residents were afraid to move out of their homes – to the point where city officials offered to deliver meals – and some considered leaving the city.

That’s what Syed told investigators he was doing as he set out on Sunday in his Volkswagen Jetta: headed for the state to find a safer place for his frightened family.

Police say he was in fact skipping town after killing Naeem Hussain a few days earlier.

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Syed is the prime suspect – but has not been charged – in the death of Hussain, a 25-year-old man from Pakistan who was fatally shot on August 5 in the parking lot of a refugee organization in southeastern Albuquerque; and the murder 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.

Ahmadi is the brother-in-law of the woman whose tires Syed leaked in 2020, while Syed and Hussain had known each other since 2016, police said.

Syed has been charged with the murder of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. Hussein, 41, was killed 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 a New Mexico congressman’s campaign, was gunned down during his evening stroll on the night of August 1.

While Syed told police he recognized Hussein from community celebrations, it was unclear how he knew Afzaal Hussein.

Despite the violence he allegedly inflicted on his wife and children, Syed’s family stands by him.

“My father is not one to kill anyone,” his daughter recently told CNN, which did not disclose her identity to protect her safety. “My father has always talked about peace. That’s why we’re here in the United States. We came from Afghanistan, from fighting, from shooting.”


Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Watson from San Diego.

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