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Indictment in killing of imam, aide includes no hate crimes

Oscar Morel is arraigned at Queens Criminal Court

Oscar Morel is arraigned at Queens Criminal Court on Aug. 16, 2016. He waived his right to appear for his indictment on first- and second-degree murder charges on Monday, Aug. 22, 2016. Credit: Pool / Dennis A. Clark

An indictment released Monday charged a Brooklyn man with first- and second-degree murder in the execution-style shootings of an Ozone Park imam and his aide.

Oscar Morel, 36, was charged in the indictment with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. If convicted, Morel faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Morel is accused in the Aug. 13 shooting of Imam Maulana Akonjee, 55, and Thara Uddin, 64, after the pair left an afternoon prayer service at the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park.

Prosecutors asked for the first-degree murder charge, in addition to murder in the second degree, because Morel is accused of killing more than one person.

The brazen nature of the killings of Akonjee and Uddin as they walked on a Ozone Park street in traditional Islamic garb, sparked concern in the city’s Muslim community that the shootings were hate crimes.

NYPD officials have yet to rule out that the victims were targeted because of their religion.

Since Morel’s arrest, detectives have been unable to establish a motive and the indictment, released by the Queens district attorney’s office, does not charge him with a hate crime. Morel, who turned 36 Thursday, is being held without bail. He waived his right to appear in Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens Monday morning and will enter a plea at his arraignment scheduled for Sept. 1, said his court-appointed attorney Michael Schwed.

In a brief court hearing Monday, prosecutors did not say why the indictment did not include a hate-crime charge.

After the proceedings, Anowar Miah, a family friend of the imam said some in the Muslim the community have provided “additional evidence to the police and the district attorney.”

He said the information “may help or it may not” help to establish the killings as a hate crime.

“We are still working as a team to get justice,” Miah said.

Schwed, of Kew Gardens, said Morel told him “he didn’t do it. . . . He seems to be honest and sincere.”

Members of Morel’s family, who Schwed said were in the Kew Gardens courtroom Monday, “can’t believe he would do something like this.”

A revolver handgun found by detectives in Morel’s basement apartment matched bullets found in the two victims, police have said. Police also said a partial license plate of an SUV involved in a hit-and-run shortly after the shootings helped them find the vehicle about a mile from the crash. That vehicle fit the description of the SUV witnesses told detectives they saw flee the scene of the shootings. Cops staked out the vehicle and when Morel approached it, detectives took him into custody.

After Morel’s arrest in connection with the hit and run, he took part in a police lineup as detectives sought evidence in the killings. Schwed said one person was identified by a witness based on photos but another was singled out in the lineup.

“We need to find out if that was the same witness,” Schwed said.

NYPD officials said Monday night they do not comment on ongoing investigations.

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