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Judge denies pre-trial release to man accused in deaths of two Muslim men

Muhammad Syed
Megan Kamerick
Muhammad Syed attends his hearing Wednesday, Aug.17, 2022. A judge ruled that he will remain behind bars pending trial. He's charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men in Albuquerque and suspected in the killing of two others.

An Afghan refugee charged in the shooting deaths of two Muslim men in Albuquerque will remain behind bars until trial after a judge agreed with prosecutors Wednesday that the man represents a danger to the community.

Judge Joseph Montaño said at a pretrial detention hearing that it was difficult to give any credibility to a public safety assessment recommending Muhammad Syed’s release.

Syed, 51, listened to the hearing on Zoom through a Pashto interpreter. He 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, 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 with his brother in the city.

He has denied any involvement in the deaths.

Lawyer John Duran with the Bernalillo County District Attorney presented ballistics evidence tying Syed to the killings and reports of previous family violence in his household, although there were no convictions.

"When you look at these reports and you look at these allegations and criminal complaints, it’s very clear this individual presents a danger not only to his own family but to our community at large," Duran said.

Defense attorneys argued Syed has no criminal history and is not a flight risk, pointing out he attended all required hearings in the cases Duran described.

"Mr. Syed is presumed innocent in those cases just as he is presumed innocent in this one," said Megan Mitsunaga. "The court is certainly welcome and permitted by the rules to give whatever weight it feels appropriate to those prior allegations, but they are not convictions."

The public safety assessment does not take those into account, she added, and it is a scientifically valid tool. Syed's attorneys sought to have him released with GPS monitoring and required checkins with pretrial services. But Duran was not persuaded.

"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that pretrial services can do, with GPS or otherwise, that would prevent this individual from continuing violent acts against individuals in our community," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Megan has been a journalist for 25 years and worked at business weeklies in San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She first came to KUNM as a phone volunteer on the pledge drive in 2005. That led to volunteering on Women’s Focus, Weekend Edition and the Global Music Show. She was then hired as Morning Edition host in 2015, then the All Things Considered host in 2018. Megan was hired as News Director in 2021.
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