The Afghan refugee accused of killing two Muslim men and terrorizing a tight-knit community in New Mexico will remain in jail until trial, a judge ruled Wednesday afternoon.
Second Judicial District Court Judge Joseph Montaño issued the ruling at a pre-detention hearing for the suspect, Muhammad Syed, 51.
Syed has been charged in the killings of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain. Aftab Hussein, 41, was shot on the night of July 26 after he parked his car in the usual spot near his home. Afzaal Hussain, 27, an urban planner who had worked on the campaign of a New Mexico congresswoman, was gunned down Aug. 1 while he was taking his evening walk.
Syed remains a suspect in the killings of Naeem Hussain, 25, on Aug. 5 and Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, on Nov. 7. Authorities are still investigating those cases, and he has not been charged in either slaying.
“Make no mistake, your honor, this defendant very much presents a threat,” Deputy District Attorney John Duran said at Wednesday’s hearing.
“He was actively hunting individuals in our community,” Duran added. “He was lying in wait in order to murder these individuals.”
Syed appeared by video from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, wearing a red jumpsuit and listening through a translator. He didn’t speak except to interrupt the translator once when he couldn’t hear the proceedings.
In arguing for pretrail detention, Duran outlined Syed’s alleged violent history, including attacks on his daughter, her significant other and his wife on multiple occasions.
In one example from 2017, Syed is alleged to have awakened his daughter, asked whether she was going to work and then attacked her when she reached for her phone. In a separate incident, Syed is alleged to have beaten his wife while she was driving. He berated her and tugged at her the hair, tearing out a clump, before he shoved her, Duran said.
In 2020, Syed attacked a Walmart employee in the store’s parking lot, Duran alleged. Syed denied being the aggressor, but surveillance video obtained by law enforcement showed the opposite, Duran said.
Charges in those cases were eventually dropped, but Duran argued that Syed’s history showed a repeated pattern of violence toward his family and other members of the community.
“What that is telling of is that the defendant is really incapable of following any lawful orders and incapable of following the law, period,” he said. “He has no regard for the law … or human life.”
Megan Mitsunaga, Syed’s defense attorney, attempted to convince the court that despite the past allegations against her client, he could be trusted to remain under home supervision leading up to his murder trial.
The judge appeared unmoved.
“This is a case where the state has charged two open counts of murder in the same criminal information,” Montaño said. “I cannot tailor conditions for release for Mr. Syed.”
Syed was arrested Aug. 8 more than 100 miles from his Albuquerque home. He told authorities he was on his way to Texas, citing the ambush-style killings as his concern.
Police said that they received more than 200 tips and that one from the Muslim community led them to the Syed family. Syed knew the victims, authorities have said.
Albuquerque police said in a criminal complaint that investigators determined that bullet casings found in Syed’s vehicle matched the caliber of the weapons believed to have been used in two of the killings and that casings found at the crime scenes were linked to guns found at Syed’s home and in his vehicle.
Federal authorities in court filings have pointed to cellphone records and accused one of Syed’s sons of possibly helping his father track Naeem Hussain before he was killed. Shaheen Syed’s attorney said those accusations are thin and dismissed prosecutors’ claims that the younger Syed provided a false address when he bought a gun from a local shop last year.
Alicia Victoria Lozano is a California-based reporter for NBC News focusing on climate change, wildfires and the changing politics of drug laws.
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