'Hate crime' sees Muslim cleric shot dead in US

  • 14/08/2016
Police establish a crime scene at the spot where the men were killed (Reuters)
Police establish a crime scene at the spot where the men were killed (Reuters)

A Muslim imam and a second man have been fatally shot while walking home from afternoon prayers at a mosque in the New York City borough of Queens.

The motive for Saturday's 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 Maulama Akonjee, and the second man were both shot in the head at close range at about 1.50pm local time after leaving the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid Mosque in the Ozone Park neighbourhood.

Both men were wearing religious garb at the time of shooting.

The men were transported to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and died "while life-saving procedures were being performed," said Andrew Rubin, a hospital spokesman.

Phillips declined to identify the second man or his relationship with the imam pending notification of his family.

Police have yet to identify a suspect but witnesses said they saw a lone armed assailant fleeing the scene on a blistering hot summer afternoon.

Akonjee, 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.

"We feel really insecure and unsafe in a moment like this," Millat Uddin, an Ozone Park resident told CBS New York.

Meanwhile, in Joplin, Missouri, on Saturday five people - including three Lutheran church members in a van - were wounded in what police describe as a random shooting at two vehicles.