After shooting and killing a Queens imam and his friend last Saturday, suspected killer Oscar Morel has been charged with second-degree murder. The 35-year-old Morel, who is from East New York, Brooklyn, was taken into custody late Sunday evening reported, the New York Daily News.
Morel has been charged with murdering an imam, Maulama Akonjee, 55, and his friend Thara Uddin, 64. Both men were leaving a Queens mosque and wearing traditional Muslim attire when Morel shot each one in the head at close range in the Ozone Park neighborhood late Saturday afternoon.
Morel was also charged with a hit and run. Minutes after the two Muslim men were shot, Morel, who was driving a black GMC Trailblazer, hit a bicyclist at the intersection of Pine Street and Pitkin Avenue, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Police announced that the hit-and-run took place just 3 miles from the shooting; the black SUV reported in the hit-and-run was an identical match to the vehicle identified in Ozone Park.
When detectives approached Morel at his home late Sunday evening as Morel was entering the same Chevrolet TrailBlazer that led police to the suspect’s home, the suspect proceeded to ram the detectives’ car in an effort escape. He was ultimately arrested and taken into custody.
The motive still remains unclear as to why Morel shot and killed the two men.
Police have not ruled out the killings as hate crimes. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told the New York Times, “We’re still drilling down on it,” adding that it was “certainly on the table that it’s a hate crime.”
A correspondent for the New York Daily News spoke with Morel’s brother, Alvin Morel, who maintained that he did not believe that his brother harbored any hatred towards Muslims.
“This is nothing like him. My brother is a decent person,” Morel stated.
“The only time we felt, everybody in New York felt, a hatred, was during 9/11. Other than that, we never felt a hatred with nobody,” he later added.
At the time of arrest, Morel confirmed that he had been in Ozone Park and asked for a lawyer when police inquired about the killings.
Oscar Morel’s landlord also told New York Daily News that he never heard Morel express hatred or dislike for Muslims, stating, “He had a girlfriend, but he lives here alone [referring to the suspect’s basement apartment in East New York], he was always very nice. He told me he works cleaning in a school.”
Detectives are also contemplating a theory that Morel was hired as a hit man.
Morel has one previous arrest on his record for a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana.
Morel was taken from the 107th Precinct on Monday evening to await arraignment in Queens Criminal Court.