Imam fatally shot outside a New Jersey mosque remembered for his community leadership

An imam was shot outside Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque. - Kyle Mazza/TheNEWS2/Zuma © Provided by CNN

Hassan Sharif, an imam who worked to keep his community safe, has died after being shot outside his mosque in Newark, New Jersey, officials said Wednesday.

Sharif died at about 2:20 p.m., hours after he was shot multiple times, officials said at an afternoon news conference.

Sharif worked as a transportation security officer (TSO) at Newark Liberty International Airport since 2006, according to a statement from the Transportation Security Administration.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of his passing and send our condolences to his family, friends and co-workers,” TSA said.

At an afternoon news conference, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said, “The evidence collected thus far does not indicate that this was an act motivated by bias or an act of domestic terrorism.” Authorities pledged to use all resources available to solve the case.

The shooting happened outside the Masjid Muhammad-Newark mosque about 6 a.m., Newark Public Safety said.

The imam – a mosque’s cleric or prayer leader – was taken to a local hospital in critical condition, police said.

“My prayers are with Imam Hassan Sharif,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in an earlier statement. “At this point, we do not have any information about the perpetrators or motivations behind this incident, but I know law enforcement will provide updates as appropriate.

“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.”

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II said Sharif was shot “more than once.” Sharif was transported to a hospital and died hours later.

While the motive for the shooting remains unclear, it comes amid increasing reports of threats, violence and hate speech against Muslim and Jewish Americans since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

“At a time when bias incidents against members of the Muslim community are on the rise, we know that this act of gun violence will heighten fears and concerns in our State,” Platkin said in a statement. “This investigation is ongoing, but at this time we do not have any information suggesting the crime was motivated by bias.”

Essex County Crime Stoppers will offer a $25,000 reward for anyone who shares information regarding the shooting, Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

The New Jersey branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged anyone with information about the shooting to contact police.

“As always, and irrespective of this specific incident, we advise all mosques to keep their doors open but remain cautious especially given the recent spike in anti-Muslim bigotry,” the group said.

CAIR-NJ called Sharif a “beacon of leadership and excellence.”

Newark Public Safety Director Fritz G. Fragé said Sharif’s mosque is part of the city’s “safe surrender” program. The program uses “houses of worship through the Office of Violence Prevention to create sites where someone under warrant can surrender to authorities in a peaceful manner,” according to city officials.

“He supported the city with all of his efforts and helping to keep our city safe,” Fragé continued. “It is with deep loss that the city will mourn his absence.”

CNN’s Michelle Watson and Holly Yan contributed to this report.