NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York’s governor said a knife attack by an assailant who burst into a party at an Hasidic rabbi’s home and stabbed five people late on Saturday was an act of domestic terrorism.
A police officer in white clothes exits the house where 5 people were stabbed at a Hasidic rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, U.S. December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Visiting the scene in Rockland County, about 30 miles (48 km) north of New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo met on Sunday with victims who had been attending the Hanukkah celebration at the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenberg.
“This is terrorism, it is domestic terrorism,” Cuomo told reporters. “These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, color, creed.”
He said he wanted New York to become the first U.S. state to have a domestic terrorism law.
Authorities said the suspect, 37-year-old Grafton Thomas from Greenwood Lake, New York, was arrested in Manhattan after fleeing the site of the attack in the small town of Monsey by car.
He was arraigned on five counts of attempted murder and ordered held on $5 million bail, Ramapo town supervisor Michael Specht said on Twitter. Thomas is due back in court Jan. 3.
President Donald Trump called it an horrific attack.
“We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
According to Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, the attacker had his face partially covered with a scarf when he stabbed five people, two of whom were in critical condition.
“One of the rabbi’s children was also stabbed,” Gestetner told reporters.
One witness who was at the rabbi’s home said he began praying for his life when he saw the assailant remove a large knife from a case.
“It was about the size of a broomstick,” Aron Kohn told the New York Times.
Roughly a third of the population of Rockland County is Jewish, including a large enclave of Orthodox Jews who live in secluded communities.
Another attack took place in Monsey in November when a man walking to a synagogue was stabbed multiple times, according to media reports.
The attack on the party, which was attended by dozens of people, followed a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in New York City and surrounding areas.
New York City’s police department said on Friday it was stepping up patrols in heavily Jewish neighborhoods.
Saturday’s violence in Rockland County was at least the 10th anti-Semitic incident in the New York and New Jersey area in the last week, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization.
They included a 65-year-old man who was reportedly punched and kicked by an assailant yelling an anti-Semitic slur in Manhattan on Monday, and attacks on two other men in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
Those incidents came after six people were killed during a shooting rampage at a kosher grocery store in northern New Jersey earlier this month.
Earlier this year, a gunman killed a female rabbi and wounded three people during Sabbath services at Congregation Chabad in Poway, near San Diego, on the last day of Passover in April 2019.
Six months before that, a gunman killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned “recent displays of antisemitism including the vicious attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey,” at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting.
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the 2nd century B.C. victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers in a revolt against armies of the Seleucid Empire.
The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council posted video on social media that showed the rabbi in Monsey and his followers continuing their celebrations at the synagogue next door, after the attack in his home.
It gave a rough translation of the lyrics they sang: “The grace of God did not end and his mercy did not leave us.”
Reporting by Maria Caspani; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in West Palm Beach and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Daniel Wallis