ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Afghan man accused of killing two Muslim men in Albuquerque had been charged in a series of assaults in recent years, accused of beating his wife and son and attacking a man whom his daughter was dating, according to police records released Wednesday.
Each time, prosecutors dismissed the charges against the man, Muhammad Syed, 51, who is the leading suspect in the shooting deaths of four Muslim men, three of them over a recent 10-day stretch, that have shaken the tight-knit Muslim community in Albuquerque.
Syed, who is also Muslim, was arrested on Monday by police officers who stopped his car about 100 miles from the Texas state line. In a criminal complaint, a police officer wrote that Syed had said he was driving to Houston to find a new place for his family to live because things were “bad” in Albuquerque, and he referred to the recent shootings.
Police said they found a handgun in the car and a spent bullet casing between the windshield and the dashboard. Tests on the handgun, the spent casing and casings that were found at the scene of a killing on Aug. 1 were all a presumptive match, police wrote in the complaint.
The arrest of Syed was quickly followed on Wednesday by the arrest of one of his sons, Shaheen Syed, whom federal prosecutors charged with lying about where he lived when he purchased two rifles last year.
Police records obtained by The New York Times indicate that Muhammad Syed had a series of arguments with family members in recent years that had sometimes turned physical.
In one instance, in 2017, he refused to let his daughter leave the house to attend a college class without being accompanied by one of her brothers, according to an officer’s report, which said the daughter appeared to have swelling around her eye but had asked police not to arrest her father.
Syed was arrested less than a year later when his wife told police that he had grabbed her by the hair while she was driving and had later thrown her to the ground in the waiting room of a human services office. Then, in December 2018, police arrived at Syed’s home to find his son with a cut on the back of his head. The son said his father had struck both him and his mother with a spoon during an argument.
At least two other fights involved a man who was dating Syed’s daughter, Lubna Syed, now 25, according to police records.
In December 2017, several months after the altercation with his daughter, police arrested Syed when Lubna Syed’s boyfriend reported that Syed, his wife and one of their sons had pulled him out of Lubna Syed’s car and beat him until he was bloody and bruised. The boyfriend told the police that Syed and his family had attacked him because they did not approve of the relationship.
Police found yed several hours later in a hospital emergency room with a cut on his chest. He told the police that his daughter’s boyfriend had slashed him with a knife after he and his wife had confronted him about the relationship, according to a police report.
Two months later, the same man reported to police that Syed had threatened to kill him during an argument over his relationship with Syed’s daughter, but the man declined to press charges, according to a police report from that incident. Deed records indicate that the man and Lubna Syed purchased a home together in Albuquerque in November 2021.
In all three cases in which Syed was charged, prosecutors eventually dismissed the cases because the victims — his son, his wife and his daughter’s boyfriend — did not want to pursue the charges, according to a spokesperson for the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office. Muhammad Syed’s home is tucked away in a patch of one-story houses near Albuquerque’s airport. Three women wearing headscarves answered the door at his house, revealing a living room wall covered with an Afghan flag. One of the women, who appeared to be in her 20s, said the family was not ready to speak about the charges.
A local television station, KRQE, quoted Syed’s daughter as saying that she did not think her father was involved in the killings and that she thought he would eventually be released.
In the complaint released on Wednesday, police cited ballistic evidence as part of what led them to arrest Syed on suspicion of carrying out the Aug. 1 killing of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, a 27-year-old urban planner, and the July 26 killing of Aftab Hussein, 41, who worked at a cafe. Police also have said they consider Syed to be the “most likely” suspect in the November 2021 killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, and that of 25-year-old Naeem Hussain on Friday.
Syed appeared before a judge through a video feed on Wednesday afternoon, with his hands cuffed and chained to his ankles. He was wearing orange sandals and a red jumpsuit with the words “High Risk” on the back. Through a Pashto interpreter, Syed asked for permission “to talk for myself.” But his lawyer asked the court not to take any statement from her client, and the judge encouraged Syed to take his lawyer’s advice and not speak.
“Whatever you guys think is the right thing, sounds good,” Syed replied.
Judge Renée Torres said she was transferring the case to a district court, where a determination would be made about whether to set bail.
Syed arrived in the United States about six years ago and had known the most recent victim, Naeem Hussain, since 2016, according to the law enforcement complaint, which did not describe the men’s relationship further.
Hussain, who had family roots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, had worked as a caseworker for Lutheran Family Services, which has helped resettle many Afghan families in Albuquerque, before starting his own trucking company.
Hussain was shot in the parking lot of the resettlement agency, hours after he attended a funeral for the two victims that Syed has been charged with killing. Farid Sharifi, the program director at the agency, declined to say whether the group had helped resettle Syed’s family. New Mexico is home to about 1,500 Afghans, a community that has grown substantially since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. About 500 of them are evacuees brought to the United States after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021.
Syed told police he had fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan with that country’s special forces, according to the complaint.
Sharifi said that the community “has been really shaken” by the recent killings and that his agency had been inundated with calls from worried evacuees.
“The refugees have been through horrendous events and have been here trying to put their lives back together,” said Sharifi, 40, who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan as a child.
After detaining Syed, police searched his home early Tuesday and found two guns, one in Syed’s room and one in the room of Shaheen Syed, the son who was later charged with lying to purchase the rifles. The son said he purchased a pistol with his father in July, when his father also purchased a rifle, according to the complaint. Police said the elder Syed bought a scope for his rifle on Aug. 1.
Police said that both of the victims whom Muhammad Syed has been accused of killing were shot more than once. A detective wrote in the complaint that the gunman who killed Aftab Hussein appeared to have waited in the bushes near where Hussein parked his car and then shot Hussein when he stepped outside. Several bullet casings were found at the scene.
Six days later, police said, Muhammad Afzaal Hussain was on a video call with a friend about 8:35 p.m. when he told the friend that he had to go to take another call. Hussain was shot about 40 minutes later and was found on a sidewalk about a block away from a nearby park. Police said they found seven 9-mm bullet casings at the scene that were later identified as a likely match to the handgun in Syed’s car, and seven casings of another type that matched the ones found at the scene of Hussein’s killing. Muhammad Afzaal Hussain’s older brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, said in an interview that he had decided against sending his brother’s body to family members in Pakistan to be buried because his brother had been shot so many times that he was unrecognizable. He said the killer appeared to have “wanted to finish him — the whole nine yards.”