ALBUQUERQUE, NM — One of the four Muslim men killed in New Mexico in recent months had previous confrontations with the man charged in two of the slayings, a brother of the victim said Wednesday in an exclusive interview.
Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi, 62, was fatally shot outside the Ariana Halal Market & Caffe on Nov. 7 — roughly two years after Ahmadi confronted suspect Muhammad Syed, 51, over what he believed to be a scheme involving their products, said Ahmadi’s brother, Sharief Hadi.
Syed has not been charged in Ahmadi’s death, but authorities have said he is the primary suspect in the killing. Syed is also a suspect in the Aug. 5 killing of Naeem Hussain, 25.
Syed was charged Wednesday with the July 26 murder of Aftab Hussein, 41, and the Aug. 1 slaying of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27.
Hadi, who owned and operated the shop with Ahmadi, said that Syed purchased large amounts of rice and then attempted to sell back the item to the brothers for a profit.
Ahmadi told Hadi that he “didn’t like that kind of person” and began to turn away Syed, Hadi said.
“My brother said, ‘Don’t come inside. I don’t want any business with you,’” Hadi said.
NBC News could not verify Hadi’s account. Syed’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Syed stopped frequenting the store, but in early 2020, Hadi and his wife left Friday services at the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque and found two of their deflated tires.
Upon closer inspection, the tires appeared to have been slashed, Hadi said. The couple reported the incident to the mosque and later were shown surveillance video from the parking lot that appeared to show a man slashing the tires.
The mosque later identified the man as Syed, Hadi said.
In a separate interview, Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center, corroborated Hadi’s story and said Syed was temporarily banned from services after the incident. He eventually returned without incident, Assed said.
“We put him on notice that he wasn’t welcome and gave a timeframe of several months before we would consider him coming back,” Assed said. “We maintained a distance from the suspect, and didn’t have him coming for a long time.”
Syed’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Still, Assed said that he and many within Albuquerque’s tight-knit Muslim community were shocked when Syed was identified as a suspect in the slayings.
“It did take us back a little bit,” he said. “We’re a small community, and we know one another.”
For Hadi, who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan with his brother in the 1980s and lived in Philadelphia before settling in Albuquerque, his brother’s killing has left him shaken.
The two were close, he said, recalling Ahmadi as a “big chef” who enjoyed cooking American dishes as well as the cuisine of his native country. Ahmadi once catered for 800 people over the course of one weekend, Hadi said.
Ahmadi was the first of four Muslim men to be killed in Albuquerque, and his death haunts Hadi, who said he can still picture the overturned chair, discarded cigarette and blood stains that remained after Ahmadi was shot in the head after closing their store.
Hadi has kept the shop open to keep his brother’s memory alive — though the door remains locked and Hadi lets in only customers he knows or who has called ahead.
“He was unbelievable,” Hadi said. “All I have now is the memories of my brother. I can’t handle it.”
Alicia Victoria Lozano reported from Albuquerque. Tim Stelloh reported from Fort Bragg, Calif.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism