TUE: Afghan man charged in killing of 2 Muslims in Albuquerque, + More
Afghan man charged in killing of 2 Muslims in Albuquerque - By Stefanie Dazio And Mariam Fam Associated Press
A 51-year-old man from Afghanistan was charged Tuesday with killing two Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, authorities said, and he is suspected in the slayings of two others whose deaths sparked fear in Muslim communities nationwide.
Officials announced the arrest of Muhammad Syed a day after he was taken into custody.
Police Chief Harold Medina said authorities had tracked down a vehicle believed to be involved in one of the slayings in New Mexico's largest city.
"The driver was detained, and he is our primary suspect for the murders," the tweet said.
Investigators received tips from the city's Muslim community that pointed them toward Syed, who arrived in the U.S. sometime in the last several years, police said.
The motive and exact nature of the relationships between Syed and the victims – and the victims to one another – remained unclear. But police continued to investigate how they crossed paths before the shootings.
"Detectives discovered evidence that shows the offender knew the victims to some extent and an interpersonal conflict may have led to the shootings," police said in a news release.
The slayings drew the attention of President Joe Biden, who said such attacks "have no place in America." They also sent a shudder through Muslim communities, where some people questioned their safety and limited their movements.
When told about the announcement, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, brother of one of the victims, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, said he felt relieved but needed to know more about the suspect and the motive.
"This gives us hope that we will have (the) truth come out," he said. "We need to know why."
Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night, and the three other men died in ambush shootings. Three of the four slayings happened in the last two weeks.
Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His death came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, who were also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.
The earliest case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan.
For now, Syed was charged in the killings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain because bullet casings found at the crime scenes were linked to a gun found at his home, authorities said.
Investigators consider Syed to be the primary suspect in the deaths of Naeem Hussain and Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi but have not yet filed charges in those cases.
Police were about to search Syed's Albuquerque home on Monday when they saw him drive away in a Volkswagen Jetta that investigators believe was used in at least one of the slayings.
Officers followed Syed to Santa Rosa, about 110 miles east of Albuquerque, where they pulled him over in a traffic stop. Multiple firearms were recovered from his home and car, police said.
Syed's sons were questioned and released, authorities said.
Aneela Abad, general secretary at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community reeling from the killings, its grief compounded by confusion and fear of what may follow.
"We are just completely shocked and still trying to comprehend and understand what happened, how and why," she said.
Some people have avoided going out unless "absolutely necessary," and some Muslim university students have been wondering whether it is safe for them to stay in the city, she said. The center has also beefed up its security.
Few anti-Muslim hate crimes have been recorded in Albuquerque over the last five years, according to FBI data cited by Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and a professor of criminal justice at California State University at San Bernardino.
From 2017 through 2020, there was one anti-Muslim hate crime a year. The highest recent number was in 2016, when Albuquerque police recorded six out of a total of 25 hate crimes.
That largely tracks with national trends, which hit the lowest numbers in a decade in 2020, only to increase by 45% in 2021 in a dozen cities and states, Levin said.
The most recent victim was found dead after police received a call of a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the killing was carried out in a way similar to the other deaths.
Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local congresswoman's campaign.
Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury issued a statement praising him as "one of the kindest and hardest working people" she has ever known. She said the urban planner was "committed to making our public spaces work for every person and cleaning up legacy pollution."
As land-use director for the city of Española — more than 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Albuquerque — Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusivity for disadvantaged minorities, the mayor's office said.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Fam from Winter Park, Florida. Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington and AP news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.
Driver arrested in floodwaters death of passenger near Mora - Associated Press
A Guadalupita man has been arrested for driving a pickup truck into floodwaters in Mora, allegedly leading to the death of his passenger, authorities said Tuesday.
New Mexico State Police said 30-year-old John Vasquez has been booked into the San Miguel County jail on suspicion of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and fleeing an accident with knowledge of death or great bodily harm.
Police say officers received a call Sunday about witnesses seeing a pickup truck being swept away by floodwaters.
Rescue personnel say Vasquez exited the vehicle and received first aid for minor injuries.
The truck was later recovered with the body of 64-year-old Benjamin Torres of Guadalupita inside and he was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Police said officers questioned Vasquez at his home and he allegedly admitted to drinking alcohol before driving the truck into the floodwaters.
It was unclear Tuesday if Vasquez has an attorney yet who can speak on his behalf about the case.
Navajo presidential hopefuls select running mates from NM — Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press
Two men vying for the Navajo Nation presidency announced their running mates Monday, choosing candidates from the New Mexico portion of the reservation to broaden their appeal.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez selected Chad Abeyta, a 33-year-old political newcomer who is an Air Force veteran and works as an attorney in the tribe's legislative branch. Nez said Abeyta has strong family values and a bootstrap mentality, and highlighted that Abeyta returned to the reservation after finishing college.
"I'm honored to join this team," Abeyta said. "I bring to the table leadership skills, critical thinking, and I plan to use creative solutions to addressing a lot of these things."
Buu Nygren picked Richelle Montoya, the 45-year-old elected leader of the Torreon/Star Lake Chapter and a school board member whose husband is an Army veteran. Nygren highlighted Montoya as a woman and a mother who will challenge the status quo and ensure that ordinary Navajos' voices are heard.
"I feel so humbled to be in the position that I'm in, and I really hope this will bring more young women into leadership roles in our community and our government," Montoya said.
No woman has been elected as president or vice president of the Navajo Nation, which has the largest land mass by far of any Native American tribe in the U.S. and is the second most populous. The 27,000 square-mile reservation (70,000 square kilometers) extends into New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
Nygren is not the first to choose a woman as a running mate. Former Navajo presidential candidate Chris Deschene selected Fannie Atcitty in 2014, but Deschene was disqualified from the race over a language fluency requirement that later was amended.
Nez and Nygren will face off in the November general election. They were the top two vote-getters among 15 presidential hopefuls, including seven women, in last week's primary election. The results are unofficial until they're certified by the tribe's election board, which is expected to meet in the coming days.
Nez and Nygren announced their running mates in the nonpartisan race in front of the sandstone structure that gives the tribal capital of Window Rock in Arizona its name.
Selecting a running mate from a different region of the reservation is a strategic move to balance a presidential ticket. Abeyta is from Alamo, and Montoya is from Torreon — two communities on the New Mexico side of the reservation.
Nygren, who has a background in construction management, grew up near the Arizona-Utah border on the Navajo Nation. He was a vice presidential candidate in 2018.
Nez, who served as a tribal lawmaker and the tribe's vice president before being elected to his first term as president, is from Shonto, Arizona.
Man arrested in death of Navajo woman; remains found in 2021 — Associated Press
A Pinon man has been arrested in connection with the death of a Navajo woman who was reported missing in 2019, according to authorities.
Federal prosecutors said 30-year-old Tre C. James was taken into custody last week on suspicion of first-degree murder and multiple counts of domestic violence.
Roberta McVickers, an attorney for James, declined to comment Monday when reached by The Associated Press.
Prosecutors said James is accused of fatally shooting Jamie Yazzie of Pinon. She was last seen on the Navajo Nation and reported missing in the summer of 2019.
Yazzie's remains were found in November 2021 on the neighboring Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona.
James' next scheduled court appearance is Tuesday in U.S. Magistrate Court in Flagstaff.
Biden administration says 'Remain in Mexico' policy is over — Associated Press
The Department of Homeland Security said Monday that it ended a Trump-era policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court, hours after a judge lifted an order in effect since December that it be reinstated.
The timing had been in doubt since the Supreme Court ruled on June 30 that the Biden administration could end the "Remain in Mexico" policy. Homeland Security officials had been largely silent, saying they had to wait for the court to certify the ruling and for a Trump-appointed judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, to then lift his injunction. The Supreme Court certified its ruling last week.
The program will be unwound in a "quick, and orderly manner," Homeland Security said in a statement. No more people are being enrolled and those who appear in court will not be returned to Mexico when they appear in the U.S. for their next hearings.
The policy "has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs, and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border," the department said.
Many questions remain, including whether those whose claims have been denied or dismissed will get a second chance or if those whose next court dates are months away will be allowed to return to the U.S. sooner. Homeland Security said it will provide additional information "in the coming days."
About 70,000 migrants were subject to the policy, known officially as "Migrant Protection Protocols," from when President Donald Trump introduced it in January 2019 until President Joe Biden suspended it on his first day in office in January 2021, fulfilling a campaign promise. Many were allowed to return to the United States to pursue their cases during the early months of Biden's presidency.
Nearly 5,800 people were subject to the policy from December through June, a modest number. Nicaraguans account for the largest number, with others from Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela.
Trump made the policy a centerpiece of border enforcement, which critics said was inhumane for exposing migrants to extreme violence in Mexico and making access to attorneys far more difficult.