The landlord accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy near Chicago over two weeks ago pleaded not guilty to murder and hate crime charges in an Illinois court Monday.
On October 14, Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed 26 times at his home in Plainfield Township, Illinois, by his family’s landlord, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said. His mother, Hanaan Shahin, 32, also suffered more than a dozen stab wounds but survived, authorities said.
The landlord, Joseph M. Czuba, 71, did not make a statement to detectives, but investigators determined the victims were “targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis,” the sheriff’s office said.
Czuba was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, the sheriff’s office said.
Czuba attended the hearing wearing a red county jail jumpsuit. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Last week, a grand jury returned an eight-count indictment against Czuba. He faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted. He will remain held without bond, Judge Donald DeWilkins said Monday.
Wadea’s father, Oday Al-Fayoume, attended the brief hearing Monday morning.
Moments before the attack, Czuba told Shahin he was angry at her for what was going on in Israel, the mother told investigators, according to court documents.
“Let’s pray for peace,” Shahin said in response, she told police. Then Czuba attacked her with a knife, and when she hid in a bathroom and called 911, he fatally stabbed her son, she told police, according to the documents.
Czuba spoke only briefly at a previous court appearance, telling the judge he intended to have his assigned public defender represent him in the case.
Wadea’s parents are from a village in the West Bank, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Chicago office. Wadea’s mother moved to the United States 12 years ago. His father moved to the US nine years ago, and Wadea was born in the US.
The attack is part of the international ripple effect of the Hamas attacks on Israel and Israel’s ensuing bombing and siege of the Gaza Strip. In the US, the war has inflamed tensions and spurred a slew of hate-inspired incidents targeting Palestinians, Muslims and Jews, according to advocates and community leaders.
The fatal stabbing of Wadea has been widely condemned by officials, including President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden.
“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek — a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace,” Biden said in a statement. “This horrific act of hate has no place in America.”
CNN’s Brad Parks and Lauren Mascarenhas contributed to this report.
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