The arrest of a suspect in the cold-blooded murder of an Ozone Park imam and his assistant near their mosque has brought some relief to the Bangladeshi community in Queens, but Muslims in the borough remain fearful about their safety.
Oscar Morel, a 35-year-old Hispanic man from East New York, over the Brooklyn border from Ozone Park, was charged with the first-degree murder of the beloved Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and his associate, Thara Uddin, 64, as they walked home from an afternoon prayer service at the Al-Furqan mosque.
The Queens DA said the motive for the killings was still unclear but his office was investigating whether the execution-style attack was a hate crime.
At the funeral for the men in Brooklyn, chants of “We want justice” rippled through the crowd.
Ozone Park is an immigrant enclave dominated by Hispanics and Muslims, where tensions usually are kept in check. Richmond Hill HS has a large number of students from each camp who rarely cross ethnic lines to socialize. There is prejudice on both sides about the other group’s ethnicity and religion.
But the gunning down of the two Bangladeshi men in the street goes far beyond the occasional bias remark or casual insult, fanning the fears of Queens Muslims who have been targeted in recent attacks. These incidents have occurred against the drum beat led by presidential candidate Donald Trump —a Queens native, the son of an immigrant and the husband of an immigrant—that Muslims should be barred from the country or extensively vetted.
In December a Muslim grocery clerk in Astoria was beaten by a Florida man threatening to kill Muslims. Residents of many faiths rallied behind him. In April two men high on drugs yelling anti-Islamic slurs injured 10 people at the Jamaica Muslim Center.
In June a 14-year-old boy was arrested in the brutal assault of a Muslim man outside a Queens Village mosque.
After the imam and his associate were shot Saturday, Mayor Bill de Blasio did not call their families but sent a City Hall emissary to the mosque. Other high-ranking public officials went to the community.
He should be a stronger ally for city Muslims.
“For all those here who want justice, we want justice, too, and we will get it,” de Blasio said when he appeared at the funeral Monday and promised greater police presence in Muslim neighborhoods.
That’s fine, but when an Islamic religious leader is cut down as anti-Muslim political rhetoric grips the country, it’s the mayor’s job to stand up immediately for that community. After all, a murder one charge is usually reserved for police killers.