Still no arrest in New Jersey imam’s fatal shooting outside Newark mosque

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By Dan Sears

There were no arrests and no answers on Thursday following the fatal shooting of a revered imam outside of a Newark mosque the day before.

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office said its investigation was continuing in the shooting death of 52-year-old Hassan Sharif outside Masjid Muhammad Mosque on Camden Street early Wednesday.

Law enforcement officials, joined by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, said there was currently no evidence the attack on Sharif was motivated by religious bias. The killing came amid an uptick in hate crimes across the country and against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war.

“Whether it’s Islamophobia, whether it’s antisemitism, or any other hate crimes that have exploded of late, and we condemn them in any and all forms, it is not who we are as a state,” Murphy said in a press briefing on gun crime in the state, where shootings were down 13% in 2023. “And we further commit to do all that we can to protect peoples of all faiths and in communities, all communities, in New Jersey.”

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Appearing alongside the governor, state Attorney General Matt Platkin said law enforcement was committed to catching Sharif’s killer. Police said Sharif was shot several times but have divulged few other details.

“We’ll continue to work tirelessly to solve this crime, and we will solve it,” Platkin said.

Masjid Muhammad Mosque, where Sharif was a leader, was open for prayer services early Thursday.

Asked if the mosque would stay open for prayers, a man at the doorway replied, “Yes, all day, every day.”

There was no sign of a crime scene in the parking lot behind the mosque where the shooting occurred. A single Newark police squad car was parked across from the mosque.

Throughout the morning, a group of men stationed themselves inside the mosque’s front entrance and declined to open the door to reporters. Around noon, those inside began to emerge.

Timothy Bynum was among those who visited the mosque. He said he had known Sharif from his earliest days in Newark.

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“I pretty much raised him,” Bynum said. “I used to change his diapers. I used to take him to the park and just all sorts of things that like an uncle would do with his nephew.”

He said Sharif had been a fixture in the neighborhood, even after moving away. “But you might as well say this is his second home,” he added, referring to the mosque. “He’s always here.”

Masjid Muhammad is located on the corner of Camden Street and South Orange Avenue, next to the old Temple 25 building, the former Nation of Islam mosque led by Louis Farrakhan and visited by Malcolm X.

The shooting has spurred extra caution beyond the Garden State.

On Long Island, Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine said he had directed police to increase patrols at religious institutions.

“While there is no credible threat in Suffolk at this time, patrol officers will continue to remain vigilant and additional patrols will be deployed if needed,” Romaine said

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