Charges upgraded for alleged killer of imam, assistant

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The NYPD said this revolver was used to kill an imam and his assistant in Queens. (NYPD)

Charges were upgraded Tuesday to first degree murder in the shooting deaths of a Queens imam and his assistant.

The brazen daytime murders occurred as they left a mosque over the weekend.

Charges against Oscar Morel, 35, were initially second-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon, police said. Charges were upgraded against the Brooklyn man after police said they recovered a revolver at his home and clothes similar to those being worn in a surveillance video that showed the gunman.

His attorney said he is not guilty and that he never admitted to police that he committed the crime. The attorney also added that morel is gainfully employed and a lifelong resident of New York City with no criminal record.

Morel was taken into custody on Sunday after police said he hit a bicyclist 10 minutes after Saturday's shooting in Queens. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

Morel can be seen on the surveillance video fleeing the area of the shooting in a black GMC Trailblazer just after Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Uddin were shot, said the New York Police Department's chief of detectives, Robert Boyce.

About 10 minutes later, a car matching that description struck a bicyclist about three miles away in Brooklyn, he said.

Morel was arrested late Sunday night outside a Brooklyn apartment after intentionally ramming his car into an unmarked police cruiser trying to block him in, Boyce said.

The arrest was announced just hours after about 1,000 people gathered under tents to praise Akonjee, 55, and Uddin, 64, in an Islamic funeral service where emotions ran high.

The ceremony featured several speakers who said they believed the victims were targeted because of their religion. Some members of the congregation shouted, "Justice!" periodically throughout the service.

After the ceremony, part of the crowd marched to the spot a few blocks away where the shooting took place.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, told those gathered that the entire city was "mourning with you."

Authorities did not release a motive for the killings, though Boyce said the possibility that the murders were a hate crime is "certainly on the table."

Some in the largely Bangladeshi Muslim community in Queens and Brooklyn have described harassment in recent months by people who shouted anti-Muslim epithets.

With the Associated Press