The US Department of Justice has opened a federal hate crimes investigation after a landlord in Illinois allegedly fatally stabbed a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy and injured his mother in what has been described as an anti-Muslim attack.
Joseph Czuba allegedly shouted anti-Muslim statements and attacked the mother of Wadea Al-Fayoume before he stabbed the boy 26 times in Plainfield Township on 14 October, days after Hamas attacks in Israel.
“This incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence,” Justice Department officials shared in a statement. The agency pledged to “use every legal authority at our disposal to bring to justice those who perpetrate illegal acts of hate.”
“No one in the United States of America should have to live in fear of violence because of how they worship or where they or their family come from,” the statement added.
A statement from President Joe Biden said the “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.”
“As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred,” he added. “I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate. We must be unequivocal. There is no place in America for hate against anyone.”
The boy’s mother Hanaan Shahin fled to a bathroom to call 911 to report her landlord attacked her as he entered the home on Saturday. She discovered Mr Czuba attacking her son with a 12-inch serrated military-style knife with seven-inch blade, according to Will County Sheriff’s Office officials.
Ms Shahin, 32, was stabbed at least a dozen times and remains hospitalised in serious condition, according to statements from the family.
Mr Czuba, 71, was found sitting outside on the ground near the driveway of the family’s home. He did not provide any statements to police.
He was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and two counts of state hate crime charges.
The boy’s funeral is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
“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,” the boy’s uncle Yousef Hannon said during a news conference hosted by the Chicago chapter of the human rights group Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Amid a growing crisis in Gaza, Palestinians “basically, again, with their hearts broken over what’s happening to their people ... have to also worry about the immediate safety of life and limb living here in this most free of democracies in the world,” the group’s executive director Ahmed Rehab said.
The Illinois State Police have also launched a statewide response to “elevated level of threats of violence and hate crime related to the current conflict in the Middle East,” according to a statement from the office of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker.
“To take a six-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil,” the governor 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.”