Biden condemns Chicago hate crime attack on Palestinian mother and child: ‘Shocked and sickened’

Six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed 26 times ‘for being Muslim’

Shweta Sharma
Monday 16 October 2023 07:33 BST
‘Entire families have been killed, there is no one to bury anybody’, British-Palestinian doctor says

US president Joe Biden has condemned the “horrific” murder of a six-year-old Palestinian boy in Chicago that police say was linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

Wadea Al-Fayoume, was stabbed 26 times inside his home in an incident that police are investigating as an anti-Muslim hate crime. His mother, 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, was stabbed at least 12 times and is in a serious condition in hospital, but is expected to survive.

Police have arrested 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, who was found sitting outside the home, and have charged him with murder. They responded to the address after Shahin called 911 and said she was being attacked by her landlord.

Mr Biden and first lady Jill Biden said they were “shocked and sickened” by the alleged hate crime.

“Jill and I were sickened to learn of the brutal murder of a child and the attempted murder of the child’s mother yesterday in Illinois. Our condolences and prayers are with the family,” Mr Biden said on X.

“As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred. I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate.”

The attack took place in Plainfield Township outside Chicago on Saturday morning.

Will County Sheriff’s Office said investigators determined that the victims were “targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis”.

It comes as the Israeli government, backed by the US, unleashed a ground and air offensive in Gaza in retaliation for an unprecedented terror attack by the Hamas militant group that killed some 1,300 people in southern Israel.

Ahmed Rehab, left, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, embraces Odey Al-Fayoume, father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6
Ahmed Rehab, left, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, embraces Odey Al-Fayoume, father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6 (AP)

The Israeli forces are supported by a growing deployment of US warships and jets in the region, and have called up some 360,000 reservists in their offensive after Mr Biden said “Israel has a right to defend itself and its people”.

The Gaza health ministry said 2,670 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 wounded since the Israeli airstrikes began, already counting more deaths than the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted over six weeks.

Israel says 126 people were taken hostage by Hamas and brought back across the border into Gaza during the 7 and 8 October assault.

Following the escalation in the Middle East, US cities and authorities are on high alert for violence driven by antisemitic or Islamophobic sentiments as FBI officials reported a rise in hateful and threatening rhetoric.

Oday Al-Fayoume, father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6, attends a news conference at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago's Northwest Side, Sunday
Oday Al-Fayoume, father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, 6, attends a news conference at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago's Northwest Side, Sunday (AP)

In a news conference, the boy’s paternal uncle, Yousef Hannon, said Palestinians “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 Mr Hannon, a Palestinian American who emigrated to the US in 1999 to work, at a news conference hosted by the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The Muslim civil liberties organisation said the killing of the boy was "our worst nightmare" and said it was part of a disturbing spike in hate calls and emails since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

The group said the family received text messages from the attacker who made disparaging remarks about Muslims.

"Palestinians basically, again, with their hearts broken over what’s happening to their people," said Ahmed 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."

Mr Biden, who also raised concerns for innocent Palestinians dying in Gaza, said there is no place for hate crimes in America.

People march during a pro-Palestinian rally that began at Harry Bridges Plaza on Saturday
People march during a pro-Palestinian rally that began at Harry Bridges Plaza on Saturday (AP)

“I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate. We must be unequivocal,” he said.

Joseph M Czuba, 71, who was arrested for the alleged murder, was charged with one count each of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, and two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, the sheriff’s office said.

Illinois’ Democratic governor JB Pritzker condemned the hate crime.

“To take a six-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil,” Mr 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 neighbours — deserves to live free from the threat of such evil.”

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