New York grand jury indicts man for murder of Muslim cleric

Oscar Morel appears for an arraignment Aug. 16, 2016, at the Queens Criminal Court for his alleged involvement in the slaying of Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin in Queens, N.Y. Photo courtesy REUTERS/POOL/Dennis A. Clark

NEW YORK — A New York City grand jury on Monday indicted a Brooklyn man who is accused of fatally shooting a Muslim cleric and his assistant this month after they left a mosque in Queens.

Oscar Morel, 35, was charged with one count of first degree murder, two counts of second degree murder and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, court documents showed. He has denied committing the killings.

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“The defendant’s alleged actions strike at the very heart of our county’s Muslim community,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement on Monday. “Both victims were gentlemen of peace and their deaths are a devastating loss to their families and the community that they served.”

Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, were gunned down after they left their mosque on Saturday, Aug. 13, in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens in an attack that shocked the area’s largely Bangladeshi community.

Authorities have said the gunman’s motive remains unclear and the possibility it was a hate crime is being investigated.

Morel, who has been held without bail since his initial court appearance last week, will be arraigned on the grand jury’s indictment at a later date.

If convicted, he faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Akonjee, a father of seven, emigrated to the United States from Bangladesh several years ago. Community members who knew him well described the slain imam as a humble man who lived and breathed his religious faith.

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Jerome Socolovsky


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  • I’m kind of tired of referring to these cases as the act of “nutcases,” I’m not discounting religious or cultural hatreds as a factor, but those without a personal motive who commit such crimes can fall under no other category. Granted the wheels of justice must have time to do their work, and a man is innocent until proved guilty. I would amend Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s remark: The actions strike specifically at the very heart of the Muslim community, and generally at the community as a whole.

  • Get back to us when we have a clear motive. However, it may be that his motive will be disjointed and running down quite a few rabbit holes of semi-rational thought.

  • “If convicted, he faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.”

    That sounds about right.

  • I see we’re continuing the pattern here. When a Muslim commits a violent crime, he’s automatically a member of ISIS. But when a non-Muslim commits a violent crime against a Muslim, he’s a “nutcase,” “disjointed,” “semi-rational.” The truth is that the prosecution will not bring a hate crime charge here unless they believe they can prove a hate crime beyond a reasonable doubt: that the defendant chose the victims, in whole or substantial part, due to a perception, correct or not, concerning the victims’, among other things, ethnicity, religion or race. Otherwise, the prosecution does not have to prove motive and it won’t be brought up before the jury, other than to ask potential jurors if they will personally be able to find someone guilty without knowing his motive.