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A landlord in the Chicago area was taken into custody and charged with murder and hate crimes. He allegedly fatally stabbed a 6-year-old boy and severely injured his mother because they were Muslim. This attack was linked by officials to the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza.
Joseph M. Czuba, 71, faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two hate crime counts, and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to the Will County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, the U.S. Justice Department has initiated a federal hate crime investigation into the incident, as announced by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Although Czuba did not provide a statement to investigators, they concluded that the victims were intentionally targeted due to their Muslim identity and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East involving Hamas and Israel.
This tragic event in Illinois has deeply concerned Muslim leaders, who are urging American politicians and journalists to acknowledge the humanity of Palestinian people when addressing the overseas conflict. Abdelnasser Rashid, a Democratic Illinois state representative of Palestinian descent, emphasized that this act was directly linked to the dehumanization of Palestinians.
Authorities were alerted to the incident at a residence in unincorporated Plainfield Township, located about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, around noon on Saturday. A woman called 911 reporting that her landlord had attacked her. Upon arrival, deputies found Czuba near the home’s driveway, and the two victims were discovered in a bedroom, both with multiple stab wounds. They were promptly taken to the hospital.
Tragically, the 6-year-old boy sustained 26 stab wounds and did not survive his injuries, according to the sheriff’s office. The 32-year-old woman, who had over a dozen stab wounds, is currently recovering in the hospital and is expected to survive.
At the time of the assault, law enforcement discovered Czuba outside the residence, seated on the ground, with a laceration on his forehead. According to court documents, Czuba’s wife, Mary, informed the police that her husband was apprehensive about a potential attack from individuals of Middle Eastern origin. She also mentioned that he had withdrawn $1,000 from a bank as a precautionary measure, in case there was a disruption in the U.S. infrastructure.
The victims have been identified by the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as Hanaan Shahin and her son, Wadea Al-Fayoume. Investigators concluded that the suspect did not provide a statement to detectives but determined that the victims were deliberately targeted because of their Muslim identity and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and Israel.
The family, who are Palestinian, sought refuge in America to live, learn, and pray in peace, according to a statement from the White House. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden expressed their shock and sorrow over the attack, offering their condolences to the family.
The family had lived on the ground floor of the house for two years without any previous notable issues with Czuba, as reported by CAIR. However, in texts sent from the hospital after the attack, Shahin, the boy’s mother, stated that the landlord knocked on their door, and when she opened it, he attempted to choke her and proceeded to attack her with a knife, while yelling, ‘you Muslims must die.’
Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that the Justice Department will employ all available legal means to bring those responsible for acts of hate to justice. He also acknowledged that this incident may heighten fears within Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in the country regarding hate-fueled violence. The Illinois State Police urged vigilance but assured residents that, at present, there is no actionable intelligence regarding any credible mass threats in Illinois.
In Bridgeview, a community with a significant Palestinian presence, family and friends celebrated Wadea’s memory as a kind and lively young boy who cherished playing games. During his funeral service, his small white casket, sometimes adorned with a Palestinian flag, was carried through the large crowds.
Mosque Foundation Imam Jamal Said not only reflected on Wadea’s tragic passing but also acknowledged the broader loss of life in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. He highlighted that Wadea’s plight is emblematic of the many children suffering in the Holy Land, which is a profoundly saddening reality.
In Bridgeview, the boy’s father, speaking in Arabic, expressed his struggle to comprehend the tragedy involving his son and the boy’s mother. He expressed a hope for resolution in his homeland, stating, “I’m here as the father of the boy, not as a politician or religious scholar. I’m here as the father of a boy whose rights were violated.”
Outside the mosque, community members united in prayer after the funeral service, as leaders escorted the casket to a hearse. They chanted phrases like “There is no God, but God,” “The martyr is beloved by God,” and “God is greatest,”.
During a press conference outside the mosque, speakers emphasized the need for responsible rhetoric and coverage from politicians and the media regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict. Attendees gathered closely, recording with their phones and wearing solemn expressions.
Recent days have seen reports in Muslim groups of an uptick in hateful language following the war. Several cities have increased police patrols in response. The Justice Department has initiated a hate crime investigation into the attack.