Antelope Valley Press

NJ police seek killer of Muslim leader outside mosque

- By MIKE CATALINI Associated Press

Police in New Jersey hunted Thursday for the killer of a Muslim leader who was shot outside his mosque before morning prayers, offering cash to anyone who can help them make an arrest. Authoritie­s said they had no evidence that religious hate motivated the imam’s slaying, but vowed to protect people of faith amid soaring reports of bias attacks across the US.

The killing of Imam Hassan Sharif as he prepared to open the Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque on Wednesday has generated an intense law enforcemen­t dragnet. The state’s attorney general pledged to assist county and local officials, and the Essex County sheriff announced a $25,000 reward.

Sharif ’s shooting comes amid intensifyi­ng bias incidents against Muslims and Jews since Hamas committed terror attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, provoking a punishing war in the Gaza Strip.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizati­on, recorded more than 2,000 bias incidents against US Muslims in the first two months since the Mideast attacks began, up from nearly 800 in the same period last year.

The council on Thursday said it was offering a $10,000 reward for informatio­n leading to the arrest and conviction in the imam’s death.

“Due to the unpreceden­ted spike in anti-Muslim bigotry and violence we have witnessed in recent weeks, local, state and national law enforcemen­t authoritie­s must thoroughly investigat­e the shooting of Imam Hassan Sharif and keep the Muslim community safe,” CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said.

Attorney General Matt Platkin said Wednesday there’s no evidence yet that Sharif ’s killing was a hate crime, but he and other officials didn’t detail how they determined that, or offer more details beyond saying Sharif was shot more than once in his car at about 6 a.m., and was quickly taken to the adjacent University Hospital, where he died in the afternoon.

Even without evidence of a connection to anti-Muslim bias, authoritie­s explicitly acknowledg­ed the broader global context.

“I want every resident of our state to know that we are bringing all of our resources to bear to keep our Muslim friends and neighbors safe as well as all New Jerseyans safe,” Platkin said.

Sharif had been the resident imam at his mosque for five years and was active in the interfaith community, city officials said. Among other things, he helped oversee the mosque’s involvemen­t as a safe house where people could go to avoid violent interactio­ns with police, which “greatly assisted” the apprehensi­on of felons and serving of warrants, Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Fragé said.

For nearly two decades Sharif also worked as a transporta­tion security officer for the Transporta­tion Security Administra­tion at Newark Liberty Internatio­nal Airport, said TSA spokespers­on Lisa Farbstein.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and send our condolence­s to his family, friends and colleagues,” she said in an emailed statement.

In a video statement posted on its website, the mosque offered prayers and said the community would focus on delivering Sharif his last rights and burial. The statement described Sharif as a brother, friend, father and husband and called on the community to be mindful of the family’s grief.

Sharif ’s death follows other recent killings of religious leaders or at houses of worship that officials said weren’t tied to bias.

In Detroit, authoritie­s said there wasn’t a “shred of evidence “that the killing of a synagogue leader in her home in October was motivated by antisemiti­sm. In Upper Darby, Pennsylvan­ia, authoritie­s said the death of a man outside a mosque was the result of a carjacking.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? A Newark Police vehicle is parked outside the Masjid-Muhammad-Newark Mosque in Newark, NJ, on Jan. 3.
ASSOCIATED PRESS A Newark Police vehicle is parked outside the Masjid-Muhammad-Newark Mosque in Newark, NJ, on Jan. 3.

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