Man pleads guilty to murder for fatal shooting of St. Paul smoke shop employee

A man who authorities say fatally shot a store employee within hours of leaving the Ramsey County courthouse for a separate case pleaded guilty to a murder charge on Monday.

Court documents show Elias-Kareem Hany Aly, 22, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder without intent and that one count of second-degree murder with intent would be dismissed at sentencing.

Aly’s sentencing date is set for the morning of May 31 and he currently remains in custody.

RELATED: Man charged for shooting and killing smoke shop employee within an hour after leaving court

The criminal complaint states that Aly was in Ramsey County Court at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 16, 2023, for gross misdemeanor gun charges connected to a May 2020 incident.

Courthouse surveillance video then shows Aly and another man leave in a Dodge Durango just before 3 p.m.

St. Paul police then responded to reports of a shooting at Union Tobacco at 567 Stryker Avenue in St. Paul.

The smoke shop employee and father of three, 48-year-old Abdul Arif, was found by officers on the ground with a gunshot wound to his chest. He died after being taken to the hospital.

RELATED: Friends and co-workers honor the life of a St. Paul smoke shop employee who was fatally shot Thursday

Police then spoke to a witness, another employee at the store, who said three men entered the smoke shop and that they were asked to remove their face coverings because of an ongoing issue with theft. The men then argued with staff, with one of them reportedly saying, “You don’t know this, but I’m about that life.”

The complaint states that Aly was wearing the same blue flannel shirt at the store that he was seen wearing at the courthouse. When Aly walked out of the store, he reached up and pulled down a green chime that contained a Ring camera off the door, then sat back in the Durango. The men who entered with Aly reportedly told Arif that he didn’t know them, that they could shut the store down, and to “watch his tone.” Arif then picked up a baseball bat and walked out with another employee to get the chime back, and that’s when Arif was shot.

Surveillance video caught footage of the shooting, according to court documents. Arif was on the driver’s side of the Durango with the baseball bat, but he did not ever raise it. The footage shows Arif fall to the ground, and the other employee retreat to the sidewalk as he tried to take a photo of the Durango with his phone while the vehicle fled. The complaint states that Arif was helped up by the other employee before he fell down again and didn’t move on his own.

Aly was arrested the next day in a traffic stop outside an apartment building he lives in. The Durango was found in an underground parking garage. One of the men who was with Aly at the time of the shooting was arrested and questioned by police, who reportedly said “That man didn’t have to die.”

Aly declined to be interviewed but said he had been “chilling with his girl” the day of the shooting.

Aly has prior convictions of controlled substance possession and fleeing police in a motor vehicle. He also faces drive-by shooting charges for an unrelated incident that happened in June 2022, according to court documents. He is not eligible to possess firearms or ammunition.