By Sophia Tareen
A 6-year-old boy was being buried Monday and his mother was hospitalized with stab wounds after their 71-year-old landlord attacked them because of their Muslim faith and high emotions over the Israel-Hamas war globally and nationwide, police said.
Jewish and Muslim groups have reported an increase of hateful rhetoric in the wake of the war, and Chicago-area landlord Joseph Czuba had made disparaging remarks about Muslims to the Palestinian-American family, according to the local Council on American-Islamic Relations.
On Saturday, the 32-year-old mother called 911 to report that her landlord had attacked her with a knife. She ran into a bathroom and kept fighting him off, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said.
“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 sheriff's statement said.
The man suspected in the attack was found “sitting upright outside on the ground near the driveway of the residence” with a cut on his forehead, authorities said.
Czuba, of Plainfield, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He was scheduled to appear Monday in a court in Joliet.
Attempts to reach Czuba or a family member were unsuccessful Sunday, and the sheriff’s office and county public defender's office did not immediately return messages about Czuba's legal representation.
Wadea Al-Fayoume had just turned 6, his paternal uncle Yousef Hannon said.
“We 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,” said Hannon, who migrated to the U.S. in 1999 to work as a public school teacher, among other jobs.
“Wadea should be heading to school in the morning. Instead, his parents will wake up without their son,” lllinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.
The Justice Department opened a hate crime investigation into the events leading up to the attack, Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
President Joe Biden said in a statement: “This horrific act of hate has no place in America, and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are.”
FBI Director Chris Wray said on a call with reporters Sunday that the FBI is also moving quickly to mitigate the threats.
A senior FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Bureau said the majority of the threats that the FBI has responded to were not judged to be credible, adding that the FBI takes them all seriously nonetheless.
Associated Press reporters Jesse Bedayn in Denver and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Updated October 16, 2023 at 12:21 a.m. ET with the latest details.