Afghan refugee convicted of murder in a case that shocked Albuquerque’s Muslim community

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Afghan refugee was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder in one of three deadly shootings that rocked Albuquerque’s Muslim community in the summer of 2022.

Muhammad Syed faces life in prison for the murder of 41-year-old Aftab Hussein on July 26, 2022. He will also stand trial in the other two murders in the coming months.

During the trial, prosecutors presented cellphone records showing that his phone was nearby when the shooting occurred, and a ballistics expert testified that shell casings and projectiles recovered at the scene had been fired from a rifle found hidden under Syed’s bed.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had no evidence that Syed was the one who pulled the trigger. They said others living in his home also had access to his phone, vehicle and gun.

The defense did not call any witnesses; Syed tearfully refused to testify in his own defense.

Prosecutors did not elaborate on a motive or discuss any interaction Syed may have had with Hussein before the killing.

The three ambush-style killings took place over the course of several days, leaving authorities scrambling to determine whether race or religion might be behind the crimes. It didn’t take long for the investigation to shift from possible hate crimes to what prosecutors described as the “deliberate and highly deliberate” actions of another member of the Muslim community.

Syed, who speaks Pashto and needed the help of translators during the trial, settled in the US with his family several years before the killings. Prosecutors described him as having a history of violence during previous hearings. His public defenders argued that previous domestic violence allegations never resulted in convictions.

Syed is also accused of killing Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner who was shot while taking his evening walk on August 1, 2022, and Naeem Hussain, who was shot four days later while sitting in his car. outside a refugee resettlement office on the city’s south side.

Authorities publicly called for help after the third killing. They shared photos of a vehicle believed to be involved in the crimes, which resulted in tips leading to Syed.

Syed denied involvement in the killings after he was apprehended more than 100 miles from Albuquerque. He told authorities he was heading to Texas to find a new home for his family and said he was concerned about the killings in Albuquerque.

The judge barred prosecutors from directly entering into evidence statements Syed made to a detective during his interrogation. Defense attorneys argued that Syed’s rights were violated because the detective, through an interpreter, did not adequately inform Syed of his right to a court-appointed attorney.

Prosecutors presented jurors with an overview of what happened the night Hussein was killed. They said the victim was parking at his apartment complex around 10 p.m. and had just gotten out of his car with the keys still in his hand when gunfire broke out.

“He didn’t stand a chance,” prosecutor Jordan Machin said during closing arguments. Machin said Syed was lying in wait and that he continued shooting even while Hussein was on the ground.

Officers found Hussein with multiple wounds extending from his neck to his feet. Investigators said some high-caliber bullets passed through his body and pierced the car.

Prosecutors showed photos of Hussein’s bullet-riddled car and said the victim died almost instantly.