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‘This is terrorism’: 5 wounded in stabbing attack at Hanukkah celebration in N.Y.

‘We will protect you’: De Blasio reacts after Hanukkah celebration stabbings
WATCH: 'We will protect you': De Blasio reacts after Hanukkah celebration stabbings

A suspect is in custody following a knife attack at the home of a rabbi in New York that left five people wounded during a Hanukkah celebration late Saturday night, police said.

Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said Sunday morning officers were able to track the suspect’s vehicle using licence plate readers, saying the technology was “critical to the case.”

Police arrested a suspect in Manhattan within hours of Saturday night’s attack. Grafton E. Thomas, 37, had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach, according to prosecutors.

READ MORE: New York City increases police presence in Jewish areas amid fear of attacks

5 people stabbed in New York Hanukkah attack
5 people stabbed in New York Hanukkah attack

Weidel said Thomas was arraigned Sunday and pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Bail was set at US$5 million and he remains jailed.

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According to Weidel, two of the victims wounded in the attack remained in hospital as of Sunday morning. Their status was not known.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council for New York’s Hudson Valley region tweeted that police received a call just before 10 p.m. for a mass stabbing at the house of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, N.Y.

The rabbi’s house doubles as a synagogue. Monsey is located about one hour north of New York City.

The knife attack happened at a Hanukkah party when a man entered the home shortly after 10 p.m. Police later said the man wielded a machete.

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The council said five people were stabbed and transported to local hospital. Two were said to be in critical condition. It added one of them was reportedly stabbed six times.

Police in New York confirm suspect in Hanukkah celebration stabbing in custody
Police in New York confirm suspect in Hanukkah celebration stabbing in custody

Aron Kohn told the New York Times he was inside the residence during the stabbings.

“I was praying for my life,” said Kohn, 65. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement early Sunday morning, saying he was “horrified” by the attack.

New York Hanukkah celebration stabbing witness recounts moment suspect entered with knife
New York Hanukkah celebration stabbing witness recounts moment suspect entered with knife

“Anti-Semitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values of inclusion and diversity and we have absolutely zero tolerance for such acts of hate,” he said.

Speaking at the press conference on Sunday, Cuomo said the attack was part of a “disturbing and frightening” phenomenon occurring in the United States.

“Something poisonous is going on in this country,” he said. “It is an American cancer that is spreading in the body politic.”

Suspect in New York stabbing at Hanukkah celebration led out of jail
Suspect in New York stabbing at Hanukkah celebration led out of jail

Cuomo called the attack an act of domestic terrorism.

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“This is terrorism. This is domestic terrorism,” he said. “This is people intending to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, colour, creed. That is the definition of terrorism.

“Just because they don’t come from another country doesn’t mean they’re not terrorists.”

New York officials question lack of action on anti-Semitic attacks, push for movement
New York officials question lack of action on anti-Semitic attacks, push for movement

Cuomo said he will be proposing a more stringent domestic terrorism law to tackle the ongoing issue.

In a tweet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack “horrific.”

“We will NOT allow this to become the new normal,” he wrote. “We’ll use every tool we have to stop these attacks once and for all.”

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De Blasio said the NYPD has deployed a “visible and growing presence” around Jewish houses of worship on the streets and in communities like Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park.

Sunday evening, he announced he would be increasing security on top of measures taken following the attack.

He also said the government will build six more light towers in key locations in communities and security cameras, as well as implementing anti-hate curriculum next month in schools in Brooklyn that addresses what hate crimes are and what dangers they pose.

“Hatred breeds more hatred,” said De Blasio. “We have to show that this horrible trend we’ve seen over the last few weeks will be stopped dead in its tracks.”

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New York State Attorney General Leticia James said in a tweet that she was “deeply disturbed” by Saturday’s incident.

“I am deeply disturbed by the situation unfolding in Monsey, New York tonight,” she tweeted. “There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation. I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night.”

U.S. President Donald Trump called the attack “horrific.”

“We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism,” he wrote in a tweet. “Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery.”

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In a tweet posted Sunday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “heartbroken and deeply disturbed” by the stabbing and the “many recent anti-Semitic attacks in the NY metro area, especially during this holiday season.”

“We must condemn and confront anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and hate wherever & whenever we see them,” she wrote.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, condemned the attack.

“Israel unequivocally condemns the recent expressions of anti-Semitism and the vicious attack in the middle of Hanukkah on the rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York,” Netanyahu said.

New York governor says he’ll be proposing domestic terrorism law for state
New York governor says he’ll be proposing domestic terrorism law for state

“We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities in order to defeat this phenomenon. We offer our help to each and every state.”

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In a statement posted to Twitter early Sunday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he was “shocked and outraged” by the attack.

“#Antisemitism is not just a #Jewish problem, and certainly not just the State of #Israel’s problem,” he wrote. “We must work together to confront this rising evil, which is a real global threat.”

New York governor calls stabbing at Hanukkah celebration ‘disturbing’ and act of ‘domestic terrorism’
New York governor calls stabbing at Hanukkah celebration ‘disturbing’ and act of ‘domestic terrorism’

The attack comes both on the seventh day of Hanukkah and after a surge in anti-Semitic violence throughout the state. Police said they received at least six reports this week — and eight since Dec. 13 — of possibly anti-Semitic attacks.

On Dec. 10, a massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey left six people dead, including a police officer. Last month in Monsey, a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue.

On Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attack, saying “Antisemitism & hate have no place anywhere in our world and we must continue to stand together against them.”

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“Last night’s attack on Jews celebrating Hanukkah in New York is a sad reminder of the rising numbers of such heinous acts,” he wrote. “We must all come together to end them.”

In a statement released on Sunday, Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada, said he was “horrified and outraged” to learn of the “heinous attack,” and offered his deepest condolences to the victims and to the Monsey community.

Fogel said while these types of violent attacks are becoming “commonplace,” as a society we can “not allow ourselves to become numb to this severe and increasing problem.”

“Jew hatred must be condemned by all regardless of whether it comes from the right, the left, radical religious extremists, or anywhere else that has been infected by the virus of antisemitism,” he said.

– With files from The Associated Press