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Imam Hassan Sharif shot dead near New Jersey Mosque

Imam Hassan Sharif shot dead near New Jersey Mosque

An imam has died after he was shot outside a mosque in Newark, New Jersey, United States of America.

The shooting occurred Wednesday morning near the corner of Camden Street and South Orange Avenue.

First responders rushed the imam to University Hospital, where he was received in critical condition.

The imam, identified as Hassan Sharif, died from his wounds on Wednesday afternoon, according to NBC News.

No details on the suspect or the motive in the shooting have been made available, but officials have not found evidence that bias against Muslims motivated the attack.

“This investigation is ongoing, but at this time, we do not have any information suggesting the crime was motivated by bias. Every possible angle will, of course, be explored and every lead will be fully investigated to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice,” New Jersey Attorney General, Matthew Platkin, said in a statement.

Mr Sharif had been attacked several months prior in another incident. He had reportedly been held at gun point at the mosque but managed to wrestle the pistol out of his attacker’s hand. The suspect then fled the scene, but was never caught, according to Wahy-ud Deen Shareef, convener of the Council of Imams in New Jersey, who spoke to the Bergen Record.

The United States Transport Security Administration (TSA), where the imam was working, in a statement in response to his death, said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and send our condolences to his family, friends and co-workers.”

Imam Hassan Sharif was shot multiple times in his car near the Masjid-Muhammad Mosque in Newark, New Jersey, at approximately 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Essex County Prosecutor, Ted Stephens, said.

Mr Stephens said his office is “dedicated to bringing justice for [the] imam’s family,” calling the killing a “dastardly crime”.

Police found Mr Sharif lying three metres from the mosque entrance with multiple gunshot wounds in his abdomen and left arm, local media reported. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he died in the afternoon.

However, the state’s attorney general said New Jersey police are increasing outreach to Jewish and Muslim places of worship, citing the rise in tensions amid the Israel-Gaza war.

“At a time when the Muslim community is concerned by an increase in bias incidents and crimes, I want to assure the Muslim community and people of all faiths that we will do everything in our power to keep all residents safe, especially in or near our places of worship,” New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, said in a statement.

New Jersey is home to nearly 300,000 Muslims, according to the governor’s office.

“I know that in light of global events and with a rise in bias directed at many communities we’re experiencing across our state – particularly the Muslim community – there are many in New Jersey right now who are feeling a heightened sense of fear or anxiety at the news of this slaying,” Attorney General, Matt Platkin, said.

Mr Sharif had been a resident imam at the mosque for five years, Newark Public Safety Director, Fritz Frage, said.

Police are offering a $25,000 reward to anyone who can give information on the shooting, local media reported.

Pain and anger

There is pain and anger at Masjid Muhammad in Newark as worshippers continue to come to grips with the death of their imam, Hassan Sharif.

“He had a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart,” Queen Mecca said.

“For somebody to do this to him, they had to be heartless, soul-less,” said Timothy Bynum, Sharif’s uncle. “They waited for him to come out after prayer and assassinated him. That was an assassination.”

Bynum and worshippers like Queen Mecca said they believe the imam was targeted.

“He just asked them to move from this Masjid, to not sell drugs. They going to pay for what they did — to not sell drugs,” Queen Mecca said.

The mosque has released an official statement on Facebook, which said, “I want to encourage you to please be mindful and sensitive to the family right now. We are hearing a lot of things that is going around certain narratives.”

Sources told CBS New York investigators are looking through surveillance video, but that much of the video right now doesn’t show a clear picture of exactly what happened.

Meanwhile, the mosque is preparing to say goodbye to the imam, who, by Islamic guidelines, must be buried within three days of his death.

Anyone with information about his death is asked to call the Newark Police Department at 1-877-NWK TIPS (1-877-695-8477).

CBS New York/BBC/Reuters

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