New York attack: Man arrested after five people stabbed at rabbi’s house during Hanukkah celebration

New York’s governor calls attack ‘domestic terrorism’

Dave Maclean
New York
Sunday 29 December 2019 15:44
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Monsey stabbing was domestic terrorism, says New York governor

A suspect has been arrested after five people were stabbed at a Hasidic rabbi’s New York home during a Hanukkah celebration, an attack Governor Andrew Cuomo has branded “domestic terrorism” that is part of a “cancer” of growing hatred in America.

One person was very seriously wounded, the governor told reporters, and remains in critical condition. The rabbi’s son was also injured, Mr Cuomo said. His status and that of the other victims was not immediately clear.

Witnesses said the rabbi was near the Hanukkah candles at his home in Monsey, in the Hudson Valley, on Saturday when an intruder stormed in at about 10pm with a large knife and immediately started attacking people.

Police have not provided a motive for the attack, but Mr Cuomo, who visited the rabbi’s house on Sunday said: “This is an intolerant time in our country. We see anger, we see hatred exploding. It is an American cancer on the body politic.”

He said he believed the crime was an act of domestic terrorism and expected it to be prosecuted that way.

The home is said to belong to Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, who leads the synagogue next door

It follows a series of attacks targeting Jewish people in the region, including a massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey earlier this month.

President Donald Trump condemned the "horrific" attack, writing in a tweet on Sunday: "We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism."

The large home was still cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape early on Sunday. According to public records, the home belongs to Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, who leads the synagogue next door.

Aron Kohn, who was inside the house at the time, told The New York Times: “I was praying for my life, he started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”

The suspect Grafton E Thomas, was arrested in New York City in the 32nd Precinct, which covers Harlem, around 30 miles from Monsey.

He had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach when officers stopped him, prosecutors said.

He was arraigned Sunday and pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. His bail was set at $5m and he remains behind bars. A lawyer representing Thomas at the arraignment said he had no convictions.

The FBI is seeking a warrant to obtain his online accounts and were scouring digital evidence, an unnamed official told the Associated Press. Authorities are also said to looking into whether the suspect has a history of mental illness.

Meanwhile Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said: “Israel unequivocally condemns the recent expressions of antisemitism and the vicious attack in the middle of Hanukkah on the rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York.

“We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities in order to defeat this phenomenon. We offer our help to each and every state.”

Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the events.

“There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation,” she said in a Twitter post.

The incident comes as New York City’s police department said on Friday that its officers were stepping up patrols in heavily Jewish neighbourhoods, following a spate of antisemitic attacks.

“Hate doesn’t have a home in our city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter on Friday, calling the assaults attacks on all New Yorkers.

Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said it was unclear why the rabbi's house was targeted or if a specific ideology motivated the suspect. According to the official briefed on the investigation, authorities do not believe Thomas is connected to recent anti-Semitic incidents in New York City.

The leading Democrat in the Senate Charles Schumer of New York., called on the FBI to investigate possible links between the Monsey stabbing spree and other recent attacks. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the human rights organisation which specialises in confronting antisemitism, said it wants the FBI to create a special task force to counter the problem.

"Enough talk, it is time for action to deter those who propagate this hatred," Israel's UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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