Afghan Refugee Charged With Killing Spree Of Muslim Men Raises Questions About Refugee Vetting

afghan refugee serial killer
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Muhammed Atif Syed has been charged with the murder of three Muslim men in New Mexico. About five years ago, Mr. Syed immigrated to Albuquerque, New Mexico as a refugee from Afghanistan.

Albuquerque has become a haven for immigrants, mainly from South Asia. Hundreds of Afghans settled in the city in the last year since the withdrawal of Afghanistan. The murders of Muslim men over the previous few months had the immigrant community on edge, but now with the killer seemingly in hand, they’re breathing a sigh of relief.

However, that Syed is a refugee raises serious questions about what our government knows about the immigrants coming into our country, and the vetting system. So let’s look at this particular case and peel back some of this onion.

A History of Violence

Mr. Syed is no stranger to violence, although that can be said of just about anyone from Afghanistan. He’s also not a stranger to run-ins with the law since his arrival to the U.S. 

In May 2018, he was charged with battery of a household member; the charges were later dropped. Four months after he was charged with aggravated battery, those charges were also dropped. 

So what made this man allegedly murder three other Muslims? Some believe the murders were religious. Mr. Syed is a Sunni Muslim; the thought is that he targeted Shiite Muslims because of anger over his daughter marrying a Shiite.

Feuds between Sunni and Shiite aren’t new on this planet, although they’re not particularly prevalent within our borders. The difference between the two sects is who they believe is the successor to the prophet Muhammad. This difference has helped fuel violence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.

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The Victims

I think it’s important to know a bit about Mr. Syed’s victims. First, there was 27-year-old Muhammad Hussain, who moved here from Pakistan. He attended the University of New Mexico and later became the Graduate Student Association’s President before starting his city planning career.

Then there is 41-year-old Aftab Hussein, who worked in a local cafe. Finally, you have Naeem Hussain, perhaps the most tragic of all. This 25-year-old had started his own trucking business and had become a U.S. citizen just weeks before his murder.

Naeem was killed outside the funeral home after attending Aftab and Muhammad’s funerals. This was a close-knit community.

To be fair, though, murder in Albuquerque isn’t just a Muslim community issue. Last year was the city’s deadliest year, with 116 murders. 

Who Are We Letting In?

Now let’s fast forward to more recent refugees from Afghanistan. The following incidents happened in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin

Bahrullah Noori was charged with sexually assaulting minors while being housed at Fort McCoy. His victims were all under the age of 16. 

Then there’s Mohammad Haroon Imaad. Mr. Imaad is charged with assaulting his spouse by strangling her and attempting to suffocate her. She told police that he threatened to send her back to Afghanistan where “the Taliban could deal with her.”

And indeed, they would. He also allegedly told her, “nine women have been killed since getting to Fort McCoy and that she would be the tenth.” 

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t be doing what we can for legitimate refugees, particularly those who put their lives on the line to help those of us in uniform when we were deployed to Afghanistan. However, I do think we should be concerned about the lack of vetting of who we safeguard within our borders.

Absolutely Assurances

Questions were raised about how we were vetting the refugees flying back from Kabul in our chaotic withdrawal. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki asserted from the podium:

“I can absolutely assure you that no one is coming into the United States of America who has not been through a thorough screening and background check process.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the tune Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was singing in front of Congress. Secretary Mayorkas told lawmakers that of the 60,000 Afghan nationals evacuated, 7% were U.S. citizens, 6% were lawful permanent residents, and 3% hold Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). 

So who were the remaining 50,000? Your guess is as good as mine, or even Secretary Mayorkas’.

The flow of potential violent actors has continued even after our withdrawal, but this time through the southern border. In May, border patrol picked up 15 people on the terror watch list, bringing the total that attempted to cross the border to over 50.

And that’s just the ones they caught. Let’s not forget the one roaming about the U.S. for 13 days before Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were authorized to apprehend him.

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A Disappointing Ending

Let’s circle back briefly to Mr. Syed in Albuquerque. It appears violence is a family affair for him. It’s believed his son helped with the surveillance of his victims and helped purchase the weapon he used. 

The son, Shaheen Syed, had an outstanding warrant for allegedly beating his father and sister. In addition, he was wanted in connection with a shooting outside of a Walmart with his brother. 

I met a lot of amazing men and women in Afghanistan. Still, the culture around violence is something I’m not sure they can shake. Perhaps it’s the silence and the acceptance that is too deep to combat. Although, we may suffer from the same affliction, just in a different part of the world. 

Before the fall of Kabul, there were 20,000 SIV applications stuck in the system for approval. The average wait time was two years. Never mind that there is a law requiring the process to take no more than nine months. 

Some lawmakers are trying to find a pathway to citizenship for those that have been here over the last year under what is known as the Afghan Adjustment Act. Welcome news for many of the Afghans here who mean well, particularly the Afghan women, I would imagine, given the backward slide their country has taken under Taliban rule.

But who else will we be granting such a gift to? What damage might they wreak? For all the refugees eager to make something better of their lives like Muhammad Hussain, Aftab Hussein, and Naeem Hussain, all it takes is one Muhammed Syed to negate it all. 

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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