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Attack on Hanukkah party called 'domestic terrorism'

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-12-30 22:50

Police officers escort Grafton Thomas from Ramapo Town Hall to a police vehicle Sunday in Ramapo, New York. Thomas is accused of stabbing multiple people as they gathered to celebrate Hanukkah at a rabbi's home in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City. [Photo\Agencies]

The Jewish community in the New York metropolitan area was coping with another assault on its members over the weekend after a man burst into a Hanukkah celebration and stabbed five people.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the violence, which happened late Saturday at the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, New York, an act of domestic terrorism.

Cuomo met Sunday with victims who had been attending the 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."

"We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism," US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter.

The suspect in the stabbings, Grafton Thomas, 38, from Greenwood Lake, New York, was arrested in Manhattan. Authorities said Thomas had blood from the victims on his clothing, and his car smelled of bleach when he was apprehended.

Thomas was arraigned Sunday 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 Friday.

Witness Josef Gluck told DailyMail.com that he saw the suspect stab multiple people as onlookers threw a coat rack, table and chair in his path and chased him out of the home.

"He was a big husky guy with a scarf over his face and nose," Gluck said. "Only saw his forehead and eyes. He came in wielding a big knife, sword, machete … and he started hitting people right and left."

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.

"People inside fought to stop him," Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, told the Times. "It was very heroic of them. They didn't just let this happen — they tried to defend themselves."

Thomas then tried to enter Congregation Netzach Yisrael-Kosson, a synagogue next door, but the entrance was barricaded by people who had fled the house, according to media reports.

Gluck said he ran after the car and memorized the license plate.

Four of the victims, reportedly including the son of Rabbi Rottenberg, were hospitalized and later released. The fifth victim, an elderly man, was in critical condition.

Monsey is a section of Ramapo with a large Orthodox Jewish population. The area in Rockland County, the population of which is more than 30 percent Jewish, is about 30 miles from New York City.

Taleea Collins, a family friend of Thomas', told reporters Sunday that the suspect had struggled with mental illness for two decades and had sought help.

"Grafton is not a terrorist," said Thomas' pastor, the Reverend Wendy Paige. "He is a man who has mental illness in America, and the systems that be have not served him well."

In November, a man walking to a synagogue in Monsey was stabbed multiple times, according to media reports.

Saturday's violence 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.

Other recent attacks in the past month included the assault of a 65-year-old man who was 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 Jersey City, New Jersey, earlier this month. The two suspects in the attack were killed in a shootout with police and were believed to have fatally shot a Jersey City police detective before driving to the kosher store.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned "recent displays of anti-Semitism, 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 BC 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."

Reuters contributed to this story.

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