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Investigation into Newark imam's shooting death continues, reward increased – NBC New York

What you should know

  • Essex County authorities have announced an increased reward for information leading to the identification of those responsible for the death of a popular Muslim leader who was gunned down outside his Newark mosque before morning prayers in January.
  • The assassination of Imam Hassan Sharif at the opening of the Masjid Muhammad Newark Mosque on January 3 triggered an intensive manhunt by law enforcement authorities.
  • The state's attorney general pledged to help county and local officials. The Essex County Sheriff initially offered a $25,000 reward. In a joint press release on Monday, State Attorney Theodore Stephens II and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura announced that the reward for Essex County Crime Stoppers had been increased to $35,000. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also announced a $10,000 reward immediately after the fatal shooting was reported.

Essex County authorities have announced an increased reward for information leading to the identification of those responsible for the death of a popular Muslim leader who was gunned down outside his Newark mosque before morning prayers in January.

The assassination of Imam Hassan Sharif at the opening of the Masjid Muhammad Newark Mosque on January 3 triggered an intensive manhunt by law enforcement authorities.

The state's attorney general pledged to assist county and municipal officials, with the Essex County Sheriff initially offering a $25,000 reward. In a joint press release Monday, State Attorney Theodore Stephens II and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura announced that the Essex County Crime Stoppers reward has been increased to $35,000.

Sharif's shooting came amid increasing incidents of hate speech against Muslims and Jews since Hamas carried out terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7, provoking a war in the Gaza Strip.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, recorded more than 2,000 bias-related incidents against U.S. Muslims in the first two months since the attacks began in the Middle East, up from nearly 800 in the same period last year.

The council had previously announced that it was offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction in the imam's death.

“Due to the unprecedented rise in anti-Islam bigotry and violence we have witnessed in recent weeks, local, state and national law enforcement must thoroughly investigate the shooting of Imam Hassan Sharif and ensure the safety of the Muslim community,” Nihad Awad, national executive director of CAIR, said at the time.

After the shocking murder, Attorney General Matt Platkin said there was no evidence that Sharif's killing was a hate crime. But neither he nor other officials detailed how they determined that. They offered no further details other than that Sharif was shot more than once in his car around 6 a.m. and rushed to nearby University Hospital, where he died that afternoon.

Even without evidence of a connection to anti-Islamic prejudice, the authorities explicitly acknowledged the broader global context.

“I want every resident of our state to know that we are using all of our resources to ensure the safety of our Muslim friends and neighbors, as well as all New Jerseyans,” Platkin said.

Sharif was the resident imam at his mosque for five years and was active in the interfaith community, city officials said. Among other things, he helped use the mosque as a safe haven where people could go to avoid violent confrontations with police. That made it “significantly easier” to arrest felons and execute arrest warrants, said Fritz Fragé, director of Newark Public Safety.

Sharif also worked as a transportation security officer for the Transportation Security Administration at Newark Liberty International Airport for nearly two decades, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and extend our sincere condolences to his family, friends and colleagues,” she said in an emailed statement.

In a video statement posted on the mosque's website after the fatal shooting, she prayed and said the community would focus on paying Sharif its final respects and burying him. The statement described Sharif as a brother, friend, father and husband and asked the community to consider the family's grief.

The investigation is active and ongoing.

Authorities continue to urge anyone with information to contact the Essex County Prosecutor's Office tip line at 1-877-TIPS-4EC or 1-877-847-7432.

Anna Harden

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