CHICAGO — An Illinois landlord accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Muslim boy and seriously wounding his mother was charged with a hate crime after police and relatives said he singled out the victims because of their faith and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas.
In recent days, police in U.S. cities and federal authorities have been on high alert for violence driven by antisemitic or Islamophobic sentiments. FBI officials, along with Jewish and Muslim groups, have reported an increase of hateful and threatening rhetoric.
In the Chicago-area case, officers found the 32-year-old woman and boy late Saturday morning at a home in an unincorporated area of Plainfield Township, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Chicago, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on social media.
Relatives and a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group identified the slain boy as the wounded woman’s son.
The boy was pronounced dead at a hospital. The woman had multiple stab wounds and was expected to survive, according to the statement. An autopsy on the child showed he had been stabbed dozens of times.
“Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis,” the sheriff’s statement said.
According to the Will County sheriff’s office, the woman had called 911 to report that her landlord had attacked her with a knife, adding she then ran into a bathroom and continued to fight him off.
The man suspected in the attack was found Saturday outside the home and “sitting upright outside on the ground near the driveway of the residence” with a cut on his forehead, authorities said.
Joseph M. Czuba, 71, of Plainfield was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to the sheriff’s office. WLS-TV reported that Czuba was scheduled for an initial hearing on Monday afternoon at the county courthouse in Joliet, according to the Will County State’s Attorney Office.
Attempts to reach Czuba or a family member were unsuccessful Sunday. His home phone number was unlisted. Messages left for possible relatives in online records and on social media were not immediately returned. The sheriff’s office and county public defender’s office did not immediately return messages about Czuba’s legal representation.
Authorities did not release the names of the two victims.
But the boy’s paternal uncle, Yousef Hannon, spoke at a news conference Sunday hosted by the Chicago chapter Council on American-Islamic Relations where the boy’s father was in attendance. There the boy was identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American boy who recently had turned 6. The organization identified the other victim as the boy’s mother.
“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, because this is what we are,” said Hannon, a Palestinian American who emigrated to the U.S. in 1999 to work, including as a public school teacher.
The Muslim civil liberties organization called the crime “our worst nightmare” and part of a disturbing spike in hate calls and emails since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. The group cited text messages exchanged among family members that showed the attacker had made disparaging remarks about Muslims.
“Palestinians basically, again, with their hearts broken over what’s happening to their people,” said Ahmed Rehab, the group’s executive director, “have to also worry about the immediate safety of life and limb living here in this most free of democracies in the world.”
Governor: Attack ‘Nothing Short of Evil’
In response to the increased threats, the Illinois State Police are communicating with federal law-enforcement and reaching out to Muslim communities and religious leaders to offer support, according to a Sunday press release from Illinois Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker.
“To take a six-year-old child’s life in the name of bigotry is nothing short of evil,” Pritzker said. “Wadea should be heading to school in the morning. Instead, his parents will wake up without their son. This wasn’t just a murder — it was a hate crime. And every single Illinoisan — including our Muslim, Jewish, and Palestinian neighbors — deserves to live free from the threat of such evil.”
President Joe Biden echoed that sentiment Sunday, saying 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.”
The Justice Department opened a hate crime investigation into the events leading up to the attack, Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
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.
The official also said that agents have been encouraged to be “aggressive” and proactive in communicating over the last week with faith-based leaders. The official said the purpose is not to make anyone feel targeted but rather to ask clerics and others to report to law enforcement anything that seems suspicious.
acuated Gaza City
For a third day, Israel’s military announced a safe corridor for people to move from north to south between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. It said more than 600,000 people have already evacuated the Gaza City area.
Hospitals in Gaza are expected to run out of generator fuel in the next 24 hours, endangering the lives of thousands of patients, according to the U.N. Gaza’s sole power plant shut down for lack of fuel after Israel completely sealed off the 25-mile long territory following the Hamas attack.
The World Health Organization said hospitals are “overflowing” as people seek safety. “We are concerned about disease outbreaks due to mass displacement and poor water and sanitation,” it said. Four hospitals in northern Gaza are no longer functioning and 21 have received Israeli orders to evacuate. Doctors have refused, saying it would mean death for critically ill patients and newborns on ventilators.
The WHO said water shortages caused by Israel’s decision to cut off water supplies, combined with a lack of fuel for pumps and desalination stations, put thousands of hospital patients at risk.
“Water is needed to ensure sanitary conditions on inpatient wards, in operation rooms, and emergency departments. It is essential for the prevention of hospital associated infections and for the prevention of outbreaks in hospitals,” the WHO said.
The U.N. health agency said life-saving assistance for 300,000 patients is currently awaiting entry through Rafah. On the Gaza side, crowds of Palestinians with dual citizenship waited anxiously, sitting on suitcases or crouched on the floor, some comforting crying infants.
“They are supposed to be a developed country, talking about human rights all the time,” Shurouq Alkhazendar, whose two kids are American citizens, said of the United States. “You should protect your citizens first, not leave them all alone suffering and being humiliated in front of the crossing.”
Over 1 million people — about half of Gaza’s population — have left their homes in a little over a week. Some headed to the south, while tens of thousands are still sheltering in hospitals and U.N. facilities in the north, according to the U.N. Travel within Gaza is difficult and dangerous, with roads destroyed and Israel offering only short windows for civilians to travel without the threat of strikes.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said it has been forced to ration water in schools and other facilities that have been turned into shelters, giving people just 1 liter (1 quart) a day to cover all their needs.
Israel has said the siege won’t be lifted until Hamas releases all the captives, but the country’s water ministry said water had been restored at one “specific point” in Gaza, at a location outside the southern town of Khan Younis. Aid workers in Gaza said they had not yet seen evidence the water was back.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military ordered residents to evacuate 28 communities near the Lebanese border after increasing cross-border fire between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The military order affects towns that are within 1.2 miles from the border.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said the evacuation would allow Israeli forces to operate with greater latitude. “Israel is ready to operate on two fronts, and even more,” he said. “If Hezbollah makes the mistake of testing us, the response will be deadly.”
Hezbollah released video showing snipers shooting out cameras on several Israeli army posts along he border, apparently to prevent Israel from monitoring movements on the Lebanese side.
In the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, the U.S. government began evacuating some 2,500 American citizens by ship to Cyprus. Commercial airlines have largely stopped flying into Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, making it extremely difficult to get out of the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to Israel for a second time in less than a week after a six-country tour through Arab nations aimed at preventing the fighting from igniting a broader conflict. President Joe Biden is also considering a trip to Israel, though no plans have been finalized.
Biden postponed a planned trip to Colorado on Monday to talk about his domestic agenda and instead will hold meetings with top aides on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
In a television interview Sunday night, Biden, who has repeatedly proclaimed support for Israel, said he thought it would be a “big mistake” for the country to reoccupy Gaza.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, told CNN the country does not want to occupy Gaza but will do “whatever is needed” to obliterate Hamas’ capabilities.
Israeli forces, supported by a growing deployment of U.S. warships in the region and the call-up of some 360,000 reservists, have positioned themselves along Gaza’s border and drilled for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the militant group. Israel said it has already struck dozens of military targets, including command centers and rocket launchers, and also killed Hamas commanders.