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Suspected New York imam killer in custody: Police

Police said hate crime was being investigated as a possible motive - as demanded by Muslim elders
A sketch of a suspect is taped to a wall outside a mosque near the al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque where Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Uddin, were killed (AFP)

A New York man, Oscar Morel, of Brooklyn, was charged on Monday with two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of a Muslim imam and his assistant, a police spokesman said. Morel, 35, was also charged with two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, the spokesman added.

"Because of the evidence we have acquired thus far, we strongly believe that this is the individual," Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told a news conference.

Police said hate crime was being investigated as a possible motive - as demanded by Muslim elders - but said the motive was still unclear.

Maulama Akonjee, 55, who migrated to the United States from Bangladesh, and his friend, 64-year-old Thara Uddin, were shot dead in broad daylight on Saturday afternoon in the Ozone Park neighbourhood of New York's Queens borough.

The New York Daily News quoted police sources as saying the killer may have been settling a score in a feud between Muslims and Hispanics. Police say so far nothing indicates the two men were targeted because of their faith.

Also on Monday, Muslim New Yorkers demanded increased security and called for justice, before hundreds of mourners attended their funeral service.

"We want justice, we want justice, we want justice," chanted Muslim elders at a chaotic news conference before the funeral got underway.

Community leaders, clearly rattled by rising Islamophobia, slammed "xenophobic statements" made against Muslims speech by "politicians and candidates seeking the highest office in the land" - a clear reference to Donald Trump.

Trump, the New York billionaire and Republican nominee, used a keynote address on Monday to demand ideological screening tests for immigrants. He has in the past called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

A speaker at the meeting before the funeral demanded security cameras be erected outside Muslim places of worship and for the street where the two men were shot to be renamed in their honour.

“I don’t feel safe anymore,” Mosharraft Hossain, who attended the funeral, told the New York Times.

“All of this hatred being propagated, especially by Donald Trump, it puts us at risk. People sometimes pass me on the street and call me Bin Laden. I just try to keep my head down and keep walking.”

Mayor Bill De Blasio, who paid his respects with other elected officials, promised extra police would protect mosques and Muslim communities, saying the entire city stood shoulder to shoulder with those in mourning.

"We will make sure that whoever did this is brought to justice, I can guarantee you that," De Blasio told the news conference.

"We know there are voices all over this country who are spewing hate, trying to create division, trying to turn one American against another," he said. 

"We're not going to let them continue to encourage acts of hatred."

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