Officials say an imam shot outside his mosque in Newark on Wednesday morning has died from his injuries.
The shooting was reported at Masjid Muhammad-Newark at South Orange Avenue and Camden Street around 6:15 a.m.
The victim, identified as Imam Hassan Sharif, was transported to University Hospital in critical condition. He was pronounced dead later Wednesday afternoon, according to officials.
When police arrived to the scene, they found Sharif lying in the parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds, 10 feet from the mosque entrance. He had bullet wounds in his abdomen and left arm.
Officials say they don’t yet know what the motive of the shooting was, if there was one, but they say it does not appear to be an act motivated by bias or domestic terrorism.
“The impact on the community of this sort of particularly dastardly crime cannot be understated,” said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens.
People in the area say they believe this shooting had nothing to do with the crisis in the Middle East or ethnic or religious bias. Instead, they blame the ongoing crisis of violence in the neighborhood.
“The crime in this area just has to stop,” said Newark resident Paulette Williams. “It’s ridiculous. I’m out of here. I’m moving to another state. I can’t take anymore.”
Daud Haqq, the president of the Tri-State Imams Council, is especially shaken by his friend’s death.
“My heart is really hurting over him,” said Haqq, before questioning the motive, “You’re not afraid to attack an imam, how about the average Muslim?”
Investigators are now going through security and city-owned street cameras to determine whether they could spot an assailant. Bullet casings have also been retrieved are being analyzed.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens vowed to get some answers for the reeling community.
“It’s not lost on us the particular impact on the Islamic community, we share your pain,” said Stephens. “And we promise to utilize the full resources of those here, and those who are continuing to partner with us to we make sure that this heinous crime is solved.”
As word spread that Sharif was critically shot, some of those whose lives he touched raced to his mosque.
“I got up out of my bed and drove from South Jersey, just to say a prayer for him,” said Aneesah Abdullah, a friend of Sharif. “He’s a wonderful human being. I have nothing negative to say about him and I don’t think anyone in the community will. He did everything for churches and mosques and synagogues. I don’t care what kind of religion you’re in, he wasn’t racist.”
Sharif was also a Transportation Security Officer at Newark Liberty International Airport since 2006.
“TSOs serve diverse populations of travelers to secure the nation’s transportation systems. We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and send our condolences to his family, friends and co-workers,” a spokesperson for the TSA said in a statement.
Gov. Phil Murphy released a statement asking for anyone with information to come forward.
“At a time when the Muslim community is concerned by an increase of 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 houses of worship,” the statement said in part.
The shooting is under investigation.
A $25,000 reward is now being offered to anyone that comes forward with information on the shooting.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Newark Police Department through their 24-hour tip hot line at 1-877-NWK TIPS (1-877-695-8477).