A Muslim imam and a second man were fatally shot on Saturday while walking home from afternoon prayers at a mosque in the New York City borough of Queens, Reuters reported.
The motive for the shooting was not immediately known and no evidence has been uncovered so far that the two men were targeted because of their faith, said Tiffany Phillips, a spokeswoman for the New York City Police Department. But police were not ruling out any possibility, she added.
The cleric, who police identified as Alala Uddin Akongi, and the second man were both shot in the head at close range at about 1:50 pm EDT (1750 GMT) after leaving the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in the Ozone Park neighborhood. Both men were wearing religious garb at the time of shooting.
The second man has been identified as the Imam's assistant named Thara Uddin, 64, as per a BBC report.
The men were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and died "while life-saving procedures were being performed," said Andrew Rubin, a hospital spokesman.
Police have yet to identify a suspect but Phillips said witnesses said they saw a lone armed assailant fleeing the scene on a blistering hot summer afternoon.
Akongi, 55, was described as a peaceful man who was beloved within Ozone Park's large Muslim community.
"He would not hurt a fly," his nephew Rahi Majid, 26, told the New York Daily News. "You would watch him come down the street and watch the peace he brings."
Video footage posted on YouTube showed dozens of men gathered near the site of the shooting, with one of them telling the crowd that it appeared to be a hate crime, even as police said the motive was still unknown.
"We feel really insecure and unsafe in a moment like this," Millat Uddin, an Ozone Park resident told CBS New York. "It's really threatening to us, threatening to our future, threatening to our mobility in our neighborhood, and we’re looking for the justice."