Judge orders Muhammad Syed to remain in jail pending trial

Aug. 18—A district court judge ordered Muhammad Atif Syed to be held in jail while he awaits trial in the recent shooting deaths of two men that rattled the Muslim community in Albuquerque.

Second Judicial District Judge Joseph Montano said at hearing Wednesday that “the weight of the evidence” against Syed prompted him to keep Syed in custody.

“We have two instances where Mr. Syed is alleged to have committed murder while he’s lying in wait, using a scope on an AK-47, to hunt these two individuals,” Montano said.

Syed, 51, was arrested Aug. 9 on two open counts of murder in the shooting deaths of Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.

Montano noted that ballistics tests showed that an AK-style rifle found in Syed’s home and a 9mm pistol found in his car were linked to the killings.

Montano also cited the fact that Syed was driving east on Interstate 40 en route to Texas when officers arrested him in Santa Rosa as an indication that he posed a possible flight risk.

“This was maybe not a high speed chase,” Montano said. “But nonetheless, the fact that they had to apprehend him so far from Albuquerque, I am finding that it is difficult to place him under conditions of release.”

Police also have identified Syed as a “likely person of interest” in two other homicides — the Nov. 7 fatal shooting of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, and the Aug. 5 fatal shooting of Naeem Hussain, 25.

Montano rejected a request from Syed’s attorney, Megan Mitsunaga, that Syed be released under house arrest with a GPS ankle monitor.

Much of the discussion between defense and prosecution attorneys centered on an assessment tool the state uses to predict whether a criminal defendant poses a risk of new criminal activity or failure to appear in court.

The “public safety assessment” found that Syed poses a low risk, based on his age, criminal history and other factors.

“He has no criminal history and only a single failure to appear” in court, Mitsunaga said.

Deputy District Attorney John Duran cited several of Syed’s previous contacts with law enforcement, including domestic violence calls to the Syed residence. None of those incidents led to criminal charges against Syed because victims declined to file charges, Duran said.

Duran also cited a February 2020 incident in which Syed was charged with resisting arrest and running a red light. That charge was dismissed in June 2021 when the arresting officer failed to appear in court.

Syed “presents a danger to every single individual in this community,” Duran said.

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