Washington: A US landlord was charged with murder and hate crimes Sunday after allegedly stabbing a Muslim woman and six-year-old boy dozens of times in an attack that police linked to the war between Israel and Hamas.
The child, who was stabbed 26 times, died at hospital, but the 32-year-old woman, believed to be his mother, is expected to survive the "heinous" Saturday attack, according to a statement from the Will County sheriff's office in Illinois.
"Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis," said the statement, which located the killing about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Chicago.
The sheriff's office did not give further details or the victims' nationality, but the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) described the child as Palestinian-American.
Authorities said the woman managed to call 911 as she fought off the landlord, named by the sheriff's office as 71-year-old Joseph Czuba.
"Deputies located two victims inside the residence in a bedroom. Both victims had multiple stab wounds to their chest, torso, and upper extremities," the sheriff's statement said.
A serrated military-style knife with a seven-inch blade was pulled from the boy's abdomen during the autopsy, the statement said.
When police arrived they found Czuba sitting on the ground near the driveway of the residence with a laceration on his forehead. He was taken to hospital for treatment before being charged with murder, attempted murder, and two counts of hate crimes.
"He knocked on the door and attempted to choke her, and said, 'you Muslims' must die," Ahmed Rehab, head of CAIR's Chicago office, told reporters, citing text messages sent by the woman to the murdered boy's father from her hospital bed.
The attack was "our worst nightmare," CAIR said in a statement.
Israel declared war on Hamas last Sunday, a day after waves of the militant group's fighters broke through the heavily fortified border and shot, stabbed and burned to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
The subsequent relentless bombing has flattened neighborhoods and left at least 2,670 people dead in the Gaza Strip, the majority ordinary Palestinians.
A 'horrific act of hate'
US President Joe Biden on Sunday condemned the deadly stabbing attack against a six-year-old Muslim boy, which police have linked to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, as a "horrific act of hate."
"This horrific act of hate has no place in America, and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are," Biden said in a statement, adding he was praying for the recovery of the boy's mother, who was also severely wounded in the attack.
Czuba of Plainfield was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to the sheriff’s office. He was in custody and awaiting a court appearance.
Attempts to reach Czuba or a family member were unsuccessful. His home phone number was unlisted. Messages left for possible relatives in online records and on social media were not immediately returned. The sheriff’s office and county public defender’s office did not immediately return messages about Czuba’s legal representation.
Authorities did not release the names of the two victims.
Boy recently turned 6
But the boy’s paternal uncle, Yousef Hannon, spoke at a news conference Sunday hosted by the Chicago chapter Council on American-Islamic Relations. There the boy was identified as Wadea AlFayoume, a Palestinian American boy who recently had turned 6. The organisation identified the other victim as the boy’s mother.
“We are not animals, we are humans. We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans, because this is what we are,” said Hannon, a Palestinian American who emigrated to the US in 1999 to work, including as a public school teacher.
The Muslim civil liberties organisation called the crime “our worst nightmare” and part of a disturbing spike in hate calls and emails since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. The group cited text messages exchanged among family members that showed the attacker had made disparaging remarks about Muslims.
“Palestinians basically, again, with their hearts broken over what’s happening to their people,” said Ahmad Rehab, the group’s executive director, “have to also worry about the immediate safety of life and limb living here in this most free of democracies in the world.”
In response to the increased threats, the Illinois State Police are communicating with federal law-enforcement and reaching out to Muslim communities and religious leaders to offer support, according to a Sunday press release from Illinois Democratic Governor JB Pritzker.
Nothing short of evil
“To take a six-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil,” Pritzker said. “Wadea should be heading to school in the morning. Instead, his parents will wake up without their son. This wasn’t just a murder — it was a hate crime. And every single Illinoisan — including our Muslim, Jewish, and Palestinian neighbors — deserves to live free from the threat of such evil.”
FBI Director Chris Wray said on a call with reporters Sunday that the FBI is also moving quickly to mitigate the threats.
A senior FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Bureau said the majority of the threats that the FBI has responded to were not judged to be credible, adding that the FBI takes them all seriously nonetheless.
The official also said that agents have been encouraged to be “aggressive” and proactive in communicating over the last week with faith-based leaders. The official said the purpose is not to make anyone feel targeted but rather to ask clerics and others to report to law enforcement anything that seems suspicious.