5 Stabbed At Hanukkah Celebration In New York As Officials Fear Uptick In Anti-Semitic Violence
BY BOBBY ALLYN & JAMES DOUBEK
Police say a man accused of stabbing and wounding five people at a rabbi’s home in Rockland County, New York, just as they were lighting candles for Hanukkah, will face five counts of attempted murder.
Authorities say the suspect, wearing a scarf over his face and carrying a large knife, knocked on the rabbi’s door in Monsey, N.Y., around 10 p.m. on Saturday before entering and stabbing gatherers, including the rabbi’s son.
Standing in front of the rabbi’s home on Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the violent episode “an act of domestic terrorism.”
“These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear, based on race, color, creed. That is the definition of terrorism,” Cuomo said.
Police have identified the suspect as Grafton E. Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, N.Y. He is currently in custody and in addition to five counts of attempted murder will face one count of burglary, according to Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel.
After the stabbing, the suspect fled, but a witness was able to take a photograph of the license plate, allowing police to track the vehicle and eventually leading to an arrest in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, police said.
“It was critical to the case,” Weidel told reporters on Sunday.
Authorities said two of the five victims are still hospitalized.
While officials would not attribute a motive, Cuomo said the attack is part of “hatred exploding” across the country.
“It is an American cancer that is spreading in the body politic,” Cuomo said.
The rabbi’s home where the attack took place is located about 30 miles north of New York City in an area that has a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
“I was praying for my life,” witness Aron Kohn told The New York Times. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.” Kohn told the Times the knife was the size of a broomstick. He said the attacker then tried to enter the synagogue next door, but people inside had locked the door.
Police said the suspect fled but was taken into custody, the paper reported. Michael Specht, the town supervisor of Ramapo, which includes Monsey, said on Twitter that the suspect was apprehended in New York City.
Earlier, Cuomo said he was “horrified” by the stabbing.
“We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism in NY and we will hold the attacker accountable to the fullest extent of the law. NY stands with the Jewish community,” he wrote in a statement.
He said he was directing the state police hate crimes task force to investigate.
The attack comes amid reports of a spate of anti-Semitic violence in New York City and the surrounding area. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that police would increase their presence in neighborhoods with large Jewish populations.
In the past week, there have been reports of people being punched, slapped, hit in the face with a bag, and anti-Semitic slurs being shouted.
And earlier this month, a pair of shooters attacked a kosher market in Jersey City, N.J., killing three civilians, after killing a police officer at a nearby cemetery. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the evidence pointed toward “acts of hate” in the attacks, with the attackers motivated by both “anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the recent attacks mean law enforcement needs to step up protection of the Jewish community.
“Whether worshiping in synagogue, shopping in the supermarket or celebrating at home, Jews should be safe from violence,” he wrote. “We need authorities to provide increased protection NOW and ensure that the full force of the law is brought down on those who perpetrate such horrific crimes.”