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Charges upgraded against accused NYC imam killer

"One of the possible motives being explored is whether this was a hate crime."

The charges against a Brooklyn man accused of killing Queens Imam Maulana Akonjee and his associate Thara Uddin have now been upgraded to include first-degree murder.

Brooklyn resident Oscar Morel, 35, originally was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and weapon possession in connection to Saturday’s homicide, but on Tuesday, an additional charge of murder in the first degree was leveled at the defendant, Queens DA Richard Brown stated.

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"Indeed, the defendant is being charged with murder in the first degree, which is based upon the intentional killing of two individuals during the same transaction, and which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted," Brown said.

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Akonjee, 55, and Uddin, 64, were walking home from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in Ozone Park around 2:00 p.m. on Saturday when Morel approached the men from behind and fired multiple rounds, including gunshots to the heads of both men, according to the district attorney. Both victims were pronounced dead at a Queens hospital.

"While the motivation for this violent act is still unclear and continues to be investigated, one of the possible motives being explored is whether this was a hate crime," Brown stated. "Regardless, however, whether a hate crime was committed in this case, the crime will be vigorously prosecuted and we will seek the most serious penalties that our law allows."

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Also on Tuesday, police recovered a revolver they believe was used in the double homicide, authorities added.

 
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