A lone gunman killed a Queens imam and his assistant as the pair walked home from Saturday afternoon prayers, shooting each in the head from close range, cops and witnesses said.
Both victims were dressed in Muslim garb when targeted by the shooter, who fled the scene on foot and remained at large. Members of the mosque quickly denounced the double homicide as a hate crime.
“That’s not what America is about,” said local resident Khairul Islam, 33. “We blame Donald Trump for this … Trump and his drama has created Islamophobia.”
Imam Alala Uddin Akongi, the married father of three, was a revered religious leader since his arrival in Queens from Bangladesh less than two years ago. His assistant, 65-year-old Thara Uddin, died about four hours after the attack.
“We are all crying,” said his brother Mashuk. “There’s so much crying.”
The shooter left his victims lying in their own blood just one block from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in Ozone Park, where the two prayed together only minutes earlier.
The imam’s nephew said Akongi had no problems with anyone in the neighborhood.
“I’m not sure what kind of an animal would kill that man,” said Rahi Majid, 26. “He would not hurt a fly. You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings.”
The gunshots rang out around 1:55 p.m. on 79th St., said police sources. It was unclear if the killer said anything before he started shooting.
Dozens of angry Muslim men gathered at the murder scene, making it clear they believed the shooting was a hate crime — with the two religious leaders specifically targeted.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene where the shooter started blasting at the two unarmed victims in the middle of a blistering August afternoon.
“We are devastated,” said Kobir Chowdhury, president of a second neighborhood mosque. “We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to know if they did this just because of our religion.”
Another witness said the gunfire seemingly came from nowhere.
“All of a sudden I heard five shots,” said the witness, who declined to give his name. “I knew it wasn’t firecrackers. And then the commotion of the emergency (vehicles), and that’s when I knew.
“When I came here, they were doing CPR to both of the people on the ground.”
Local residents described the imam as a pious, well-respected member of the community. Akongi was leaving for Bangladesh in 10 day to attend his son’s wedding, and was head of the local mosque for four years, said Ahmed Zakria, a member of the mosque.
The imam was “a very sweet, soft-spoken, humble man,” said Chowdhury, 40. “He’s a role model as an imam, as a father, as a community member. He didn’t have any disputes with anybody.”
A bullet tore through the brain of Uddin, who was on life support at Jamaica Hospital before he passed away, said his brother Mashuk. The two victims were apparently headed to Uddin’s house when they were attacked.
“I’m very shocked,” said Mashuk Uddin. “I’m shaking, my whole body. Not any problems with anybody. He just goes to the mosque, prays and goes home.”
Cops and witnesses described the shooter as tall and Hispanic, carrying a large handgun, and wearing a dark blue shirt and short pants. Police received a 911 call with a report of shots fired.
“I mean, I was scared,” said witness Steven Nauth, 27. “I had my little cousin out here and I told him to run.”
Police, without providing a motive, said initially that the shooting was not a hate crime. The gunfire erupted near a storage facility and a block away from the elevated A train station, officials said.
“People being shot in the head in broad daylight is unheard of,” said Millat Uddin, a 25-year resident of the neighborhood. “Killing people brutally, like they’re an animal.”
With Ellen Moynihan