A man suspected of stabbing five people who were celebrating Hanukkah at a rabbi’s home north of New York City was arraigned on Dec. 29, as New York’s governor described the attack as “domestic terrorism.”
Grafton Thomas, the 37-year-old suspect, was arrested in New York City within hours of the stabbing rampage that occurred in the Orthodox Jewish community of Monsey, New York, late on Dec. 28. Prosecutors said Thomas, who attempted to flee the small town by car, had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach when officers stopped him.
Authorities say it’s unclear why the rabbi’s home was targeted.
Thomas was arraigned on five counts of attempted murder and was ordered by Ramapo Justice Rhoda Schoenberger to be held on $5 million bail, town supervisor Michael Specht said on Twitter on Dec. 29. Thomas, who pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 3.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo met on Dec. 29 with some of the victims who had attended the celebration at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, which is next to a synagogue. In an official statement, Cuomo said that he’s directing state police to “increase patrols and security in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across New York State.”
“Last night’s attack in Monsey was an act of domestic terrorism that sought to incite hate and generate fear,” he said on Dec. 29. “We will not tolerate it.”
Since Dec. 8, there have been 13 anti-Semitic acts of violence, including the Dec. 28 attack, Cuomo said.
“In New York, we will never tolerate such hate and hostility in any form, and we will put an end to this cancer not just through our words but through our actions,” he said.
Cuomo also told reporters that he wanted New York to become the first U.S. state to have a domestic terrorism law.
Ramapo, New York, Police Chief Brad Weidel said it was unclear why the rabbi’s house was targeted or if a specific ideology motivated the suspect. Monsey is a hamlet within the town of Ramapo. According to an official briefed on the investigation, authorities don’t believe Thomas is connected to recent anti-Semitic incidents in the city.
“The guy came in wielding a big knife, sword, machete—I don’t know what it was,” Josef Gluck, a witness of the attack, told The Associated Press. “He took it out of his holder, started swinging.” Gluck hit the assailant with a coffee table during the attack.
During the attack, the suspect had his face partially covered with a scarf, Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council told reporters. Two of the stabbing victims are in critical condition.
“One of the rabbi’s children was also stabbed,” Gestetner told reporters.
On Dec. 27, the New York City Police Department said it would step up patrols in heavily Jewish neighborhoods in the borough of Brooklyn, after the city saw at least eight anti-Semitic incidents in two weeks.
In response to the stabbing, President Donald Trump said the country needs to unite in order to “eradicate” anti-Semitism. He said both he and First Lady Melania Trump “wish the victims a quick and full recovery.”
“The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific,” he said in a Dec. 29 Twitter post. “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.”
Roughly a third of the population of New York’s Rockland County is Jewish, including a large enclave of Orthodox Jews who live in secluded communities.
The president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, echoed his comments and called the attack “an act of pure evil.”
“Attacks on Jewish New Yorkers were reported almost every single day this past week,” she wrote in a Dec. 29 Twitter post.
“The increasing frequency of anti-Semitic violence in New York (and around the country) receives far too little local governmental action and national press attention,” she continued.
This past week in New York City itself, police have received at least six reports—eight since Dec. 13—of attacks possibly motivated by anti-Semitism. Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Dec. 27 that police presence would increase in Brooklyn neighborhoods home to large Jewish populations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, condemned the “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 Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report