PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, IL – An Illinois man was charged with hate crimes for stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy to death and wounding his mother in an attack that targeted them for their religion and as a response to the Israeli war on Gaza, officials and Muslim rights activists said on Sunday.
Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed 26 times with a military-style knife with a seven-inch (18-cm) serrated blade, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. His mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, was stabbed more than a dozen times, authorities said, adding that she is at a hospital and is expected to survive. The attack occurred on Saturday in Plainfield Township, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago.
“Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis,” the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
The suspect, Joseph Czuba, 71 — Shahin’s landlord — was arrested and charged by the Will County Sheriff’s Office after police say they determined he stabbed the child and mother because they were Muslim and because of the ongoing situation in Israel.
Before the boy’s funeral prayer service Monday at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, the child’s father, Odey Al-Fayoume, speaking in Arabic, said he hopes something good can come out of his son’s slaying.
“I’m here because I’m the father of the boy, not because I’m a political person or a religious person or anything,” Al-Fayoume said. “I’m here as the father of a child whose rights were taken from him.”
He called his son a “martyr.”
“I hope that the families of Gaza accept him from me as such,” he said. “The issue of Hamas and Gaza are world issues, not pertaining to individual countries. I’m not big enough to speak of these things. And I hope that my son can be a means by which this issue can be fixed.”
At the end of the funeral, a small white casket, which at one point was covered in the Palestinian flag, was carried away.
The brutal killing comes amid heightened tensions in the Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East and at a time when Muslim and Arab communities in the U.S. are warning against hate toward their people stateside.
The slaying has sparked public outcry and heartbreak, as well as condemnation from the White House.
President Biden, who is a vehement supporter of brutal Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, said the boy’s family were Palestinian Muslims who “came to America seeking what we all seek — a refuge to live, learn and pray in peace.”
“This horrific act of hate has no place in America,” Biden said in a statement.
“I am heartbroken by the abhorrent killing of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old child who died after being stabbed 26 times with a military-style knife,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Sunday. “On behalf of the entire Justice Department, I want to express my deepest condolences to his family and his community as they grieve his loss.”
The Justice Department warned the incident may “further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence.”
The Will County Sheriff’s Office said deputies responded to a residence in Plainfield just before noon Saturday and found the two victims inside a bedroom, both with “multiple stab wounds to their chest, torso and upper extremities.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Chicago held a news conference Sunday with Odey Al-Fayoume. CAIR Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said Shahin sent text messages to Al-Fayoume recounting what happened and detailing the anti-Muslim statements made during the attack.
CAIR said she texted, “It all happened in seconds.”
She said Czuba allegedly knocked on the door, and when she opened it, he choked her and allegedly yelled “you Muslims must die,” Rehab said.
Rehab said the mother and son had lived in the ground floor of the home for two years and had previously had a cordial relationship with the landlord.
“The father said [the landlord] had built a tree house for the boy and allowed him to swim in a makeshift pool and brought him toys,” Rehab said. “But it wasn’t until he started watching the news and hearing the statements [about the war] that something changed.”
Czuba was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, the sheriff’s office said.
The sheriff’s office said Shahin called 911 after her landlord “attacked her with a knife” — described as a 12-inch, serrated military-style knife with a seven-inch blade — and she ran into the bathroom and fought off her attacker as she called for help.
Although Czuba did not make any statements to detectives, as is his constitutional right, police said they determined the charges through interviews and evidence, according to Reuters.
When police arrived at the scene, they said they found Czuba sitting on the ground outside the home with a cut to his forehead. The victims were in a bedroom.
“The Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Palestinian racism being spread by politicians, media outlets and social media platforms must stop,” CAIR said on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference to stay vigilant “in this heightened environment.”
“There’s no question we’re seeing an increase in reported threats, and we’ve got to be on the lookout, especially for lone actors who may take inspiration from recent events to commit violence of their own,” Wray told the conference in San Diego on Saturday, according to the FBI website.