An Illinois man was charged with hate crimes for stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy to death and wounding his mother in an attack that targeted them for their religion and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas, officials and Muslim rights activists said on Sunday.
The boy was stabbed 26 times with a military-style knife with a 7-inch (18-cm) serrated blade, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. The 32-year-old woman had multiple stab wounds and is expected to survive the attack that occurred on Saturday in Plainfield Township, about 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Chicago.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the boy’s family were Palestinian Muslims who “came to America seeking what we all seek – a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace.”
“This horrific act of hate has no place in America,” Biden said in a statement.
The suspect, Joseph Czuba, 71, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, the sheriff’s office said.
“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,” the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Reuters could not identify an attorney for Czuba. He was in jail awaiting his initial court appearance, the office said.
Although Czuba did not make any statements to detectives, as is his constitutional right, police said they determined the charges though through interviews and evidence.
When police arrived at the scene, they said they found Czuba sitting on the ground outside the home with a cut to his forehead. The victims were in a bedroom.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) identified the boy as Wadea Al-Fayoume and said the woman, Hanaan Shahin, was his mother.
“The Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Palestinian racism being spread by politicians, media outlets, and social media platforms must stop,” CAIR said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference to stay vigilant “in this heightened environment.”
“There’s no question we’re seeing an increase in reported threats, and we’ve got to be on the lookout, especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events to commit violence of their own,” Wray told the conference in San Diego on Saturday, according to the FBI website.