St. Paul man killed shopkeeper within hour of leaving court on gun charge, prosecutors say

A St. Paul man was at the Ramsey County Courthouse on Thursday for a hearing on gun charges.

Less than an hour after leaving the downtown St. Paul courthouse, he fatally shot a West Side tobacco store worker after a confrontation over face coverings, prosecutors say.

Elias-Kareem Hany Aly, 21, was charged Tuesday with two counts of second-degree murder in connection with Thursday’s killing of 48-year-old Abdullah Arif of Stillwater. Aly, who was arrested Friday, remains jailed in lieu of $2.5 million bail.

Charges say the confrontation at Union Tobacco, 567 Stryker Ave., began after Arif told Aly to remove a mask that covered his face. Aly then pulled down a door chime on his way out of the store. Aly shot Arif after Arif went outside with a baseball bat to get the chime back.

According to the criminal complaint:

Surveillance video showed Aly and another man, identified in the complaint as QZ, walk out of the courthouse at 2:51 p.m. Thursday and leave in a Dodge Durango that had been parked on Kellogg Boulevard. The SUV headed south over the Wabasha Street bridge.

St. Paul police were sent to Union Tobacco at 3:34 p.m. on a report of a shooting. Officers found Arif with a gunshot wound to his chest. Arif was taken to Regions Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed the bullet pierced his heart and liver.

Officers spoke to two store employees who gave similar accounts of the shooting and what led up to it. An employee said four men came into the store. One of the men — later identified as Aly — wore a balaclava, which covered his head and face except for the area around his eyes. Arif asked Aly to remove the mask, but he refused and reportedly said, “You don’t need to see my (expletive) face,” the complaint states.

Employees told police they explained to the group they don’t allow people to conceal their identity because of theft and other issues at the store.

The employee said QZ used a credit card to make a purchase, and that Aly knocked down a door chime when he left. Arif noticed the chime was missing, grabbed a baseball bat from behind the counter and ran after the group, who were in a Dodge Durango.

Surveillance video

The shooting was caught on surveillance video, which showed Arif near the driver’s side of the SUV and another employee on the passenger side. “(Arif) never raised the baseball bat as if to hit anything with it,” the complaint states.

Arif approached the driver’s side window, and then moved back. The other employee “reacted to something” and Arif fell to the ground. Arif knelt in the street, as the employee helped him get up. Arif ran toward the sidewalk, then collapsed into a pile of snow.

The employee told police he saw Aly, who was in the front passenger seat, point a gun at Arif. He said someone inside the SUV told Aly not to shoot. He said as Arif began asking the group about the missing chime, he was shot almost immediately near the driver’s side window.

Aly had on the same clothing that he wore at the courthouse — with the addition of the balaclava — and officers identified him as the shooter. Officers identified the Durango driver as QZ, who had rented the SUV from Enterprise.

Police also received an anonymous phone call from a woman who said that one of her brother’s friends, Kareem, was the shooter. She said the shooting stemmed from a disagreement.

A day after the shooting, officers located the Durango in a parking garage at an apartment building in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. Soon, officers saw Aly leave the building and get into a black Infiniti sedan. Officers stopped the car and Aly was arrested.

QZ was arrested the same day in Minneapolis, and he and his attorney met with investigators.

QZ said he went to court with Aly on Thursday and they went to the tobacco store with two other men. He said a worker told Aly to take his mask off, and Aly left. Once all were outside and in the SUV, Arif came out with a bat. Aly grabbed his gun and fired a shot through the driver’s window.

In an interview with investigators, Aly was shown a photo that showed him at the courthouse on Thursday. He initially claimed he didn’t recognize the photo. When told it was from his court appearance, Aly said, “Oh, yeah,” the complaint states. He asked if he had a new charge, and then ended the interview.

Previous charges

In June, Aly was charged with two other men in a drive-by shooting in which nearly four dozen gunshots were fired at two Maplewood apartment buildings.

He and two other men were charged with firing guns through windows and walls of the buildings along Clarence Street North and striking parked vehicles. The trio then led police on a high-speed chase in a stolen Dodge Charger from Maplewood to St. Anthony, where they crashed into a utility pole and ran. Officers soon arrested them, while also recovering four Glock handguns, three of which were stolen, near the crash scene, according to the June 15 charges.

Aly was arrested June 16 and released from jail after posting a $200,000 bond.

He appeared at a pretrial hearing on Jan. 27. According to Tuesday’s complaint, Aly’s attorney told the court his client had completed mental health treatment, chemical health treatment and planned on enrolling in college. Aly asked the prosecution to agree to a departure from sentencing guidelines and spare him a prison sentence. The state rejected Aly’s request, and the trial is set for June.

Aly also has felony identity theft and theft by swindle charges pending in Hennepin County.

According to court records, Aly has two felony convictions: fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance and fleeing police in a motor vehicle, both from January 2021 out of Dakota County. The drug conviction makes Aly ineligible to possess firearms or ammunition.

Details on the 2020 gross misdemeanor gun charges Aly appeared for on Thursday were not immediately available.

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