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Suspect in killings of 2 Muslim men in Albuquerque is described as volatile by community members and police reports

<i>Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court</i><br/>Muhammad Syed
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court
Muhammad Syed

By Ashley Killough and Ed Lavandera, CNN

Muhammad Syed, the suspect arrested this week in connection with killings of two Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, had previous run-ins with authorities that included domestic violence arrests and had appeared volatile to others, according to police reports and CNN interviews with community members.

Syed, 51, is being held on murder charges for the July 26 killing of 41-year-old Aftab Hussein and the August 1 killing of 27-year-old Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. He has not been charged but police say he is the primary suspect in two other homicides: that of 62-year-old Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi, killed November 7, and of 25-year-old Naeem Hussain, killed August 5.

Syed denied involvement in the killings during an interview with police, according to an arrest affidavit.

Authorities are still exploring what could have been the motive behind the killings, Kyle Hartsock, deputy commander of the city police department’s criminal investigation division, said at a news conference Tuesday.

One of the victims’ relatives spoke to CNN about his experience with Syed. Sharief Hadi — whose brother, Ahmadi, was killed in November — said it’s agonizing waiting for answers.

When police announced Syed’s name as a primary suspect in the killing, Hadi said he remembered him as a disgruntled customer at the halal market he owned with his slain brother. Hadi recalled a time several years ago, during which Syed purchased rice using food stamps and then tried to return the rice to get cash back. Hadi said he told Syed he couldn’t receive cash and said Syed grew angry and returned several times trying to get money back for the rice. He alleges Syed also called and harassed Hadi and his brother.

Ahmadi was found with a gunshot wound near the back door of their market, where Hadi said he’d been taking a break after a long day of work. Authorities said the victim was ambushed and fired upon.

“I feel miserable every day,” Hadi said through tears. “I lost my lovely brother.”

Albuquerque police this week also shared eight incident reports with CNN involving Syed dating back to 2017. Those included allegations of domestic violence, battery, assault, battery domestic violence, aggravated assault, food stamp fraud and shoplifting, though not all resulted in an arrest. Police also listed an allegation of child abuse in 2019, but they could not release any details on that incident.

The disposition of all charges against Syed could not be immediately determined. However, all three domestic violence charges against Syed were dismissed, Hartsock said in a Tuesday news conference. A spokeswoman for the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office told the New York Times that the victims in the cases did not want to pursue charges.

As for other allegations against Syed, Hartsock characterized them as “minor, misdemeanor arrests.”

Syed’s daughter, who spoke to CNN reporters earlier this week, said the family arrived from Afghanistan roughly six years ago. The daughter, who CNN is not naming out of concerns for her safety, said Syed is “not a person who can kill somebody,” and had always talked about peace.

Among the reports that were shared with CNN was an instance in July 2017 when Syed’s then 20-year-old daughter “reported ongoing verbal and physical disputes” but said she did not want to have her father arrested because it would make the “family dynamic worse,” according to a police report.

In another instance, in February 2018, a man who identified himself as Syed’s former son-in-law told police the two had gotten into a verbal argument about him dating Syed’s daughter and Syed verbally threatened to kill him, according to an incident report from the police department. Syed reported he wanted the man to stop calling him and had not threatened him, according to the report. The man declined to press charges, according to the report, and no charges were filed due to lack of evidence.

In May 2018, Syed was arrested after an alleged altercation with his wife at the New Mexico Human Services Department. He told police that they were arguing over his wife’s driving and she slapped him. His wife told authorities she was driving the two of them to the department and her husband, who was yelling that she was not a good driver, allegedly “pulled her by the hair and kicked her out of the vehicle,” and made her walk the roughly two-hour journey to the building, according to a police report. When she arrived, he allegedly grabbed his wife by the hair and threw her on the ground, where an employee found her crying and saw a “large piece of hair” on the floor, according to the report. Syed was arrested on charges of domestic violence and battery. He pleaded not guilty and the charges were dismissed, court records show.

Syed was arrested again in December 2018 after his then 17-year-old son called police and alleged his father hit him in the back of his head “with a large metal slotted spoon causing a laceration,” according to a police report. The son told police his father regularly “beat him and his mother” and showed an officer the blood on the back of his head, according to that report, but Syed denied the violence. Syed was arrested on charges of domestic violence and aggravated battery. He again pleaded not guilty, and his case was dismissed after he complied with prosecution conditions that court records didn’t specify.

Mazin Kadhim, the case manager assigned to provide refugee services to the family, described his relationship with Syed as a turbulent one and said he had grown worried over the relationship with his family.

“With him — one time he’s happy with me, nine times he’s angry with me. For no reason,” Kadhim told CNN. “The way he was talking to me as a case worker was sometimes scary.”

Kadhim said he believed Syed’s family was “afraid of him” and that he had reported his concerns about Syed to the refugee assistance program he worked for at the time, as well as to authorities. CNN has reached out to the assistance program but has not received a response.

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