Five people were injured Saturday night when a man armed with what appeared to be a machete burst into a rabbi’s home in a New York City suburb and began slashing at people attending a Hanukkah celebration, authorities said.
The man, wearing a scarf over his face, chased victims as they ran from the scene in Monsey in Rockland County north of Manhattan, then fled in a car, CBS News reported. He was captured by New York City police around midnight in the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, said Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel.
The suspect, identified as 37-year-old Grafton E. Thomas, of Greenwood Lake, New York, will face five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary, Weidel said.
He was arraigned Sunday morning and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Bail was set at $5 million.
Five victims, all of them identified as Hasidic Jews, were rushed to local hospitals; two of them were in critical condition, according to the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. One victim was stabbed at least six times, according to the council.
“The house had many dozens of people in there” at the time of the attack, Yossi Gestetner, the council’s co-founder, told The New York Times.
Gestetner said the rabbi’s son was one of the victims.
Aron Kohn, who told The Times he was inside the home during the attack, said the weapon was about the size of a broomstick.
“I was praying for my life,” the 65-year-old told the paper. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”
Josef Gluck, who was also inside the home, told The Associated Press that he hit the assailant with a coffee table during the attack.
“The guy came in wielding a big knife, sword, machete — I don’t know what it was,” he said of the weapon. “He took it out of his holder, started swinging.”
Levy Kraus told the AP that he saw a large man enter the rabbi’s home with a covered object.
“He had something in his hand. It looked like an umbrella. It was covered,” the 15-year-old said. He also said he saw the man running from the house, screaming “I’ll get you.”
The motive for the attack remains unknown. But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who visited the rabbi’s home on Sunday morning, called the attack an “act of domestic terrorism.”
“This is intolerance meets ignorance meets illegality,” he told reporters. “This is an intolerant time in this country. We see anger, we see hatred exploding. It is an American cancer in the body politic.”
Cuomo noted that Saturday’s attack was the 13th anti-Semitic incident to plague New York state in the past few weeks.
At least six suspected anti-Semitic attacks had occurred in New York City in the last week alone. Police patrols were being boosted in three Brooklyn neighborhoods in response.
The counterterrorism unit of the New York City Police Department was monitoring the situation in Monsey, a community with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Last month, a teacher and father of four in Monsey was critically injured when he was stabbed on his way to synagogue.
After the attack, the rabbi continued with his weekly Sabbath closure ceremonies, joining his congregants in declaring gratitude for the lives saved, Congregation Secretary Naftali Silberberg said in a statement Sunday to CBS.
“I thank the Hashem for the open miracles we saw last night,” Rottenberg said in the same statement. “Though we must all take the precautions that have unfortunately become basic security necessities – locking our shul and school doors and having an emergency preparedness plan – we will forge forward in faith and thanks that we continue to live under G-d’s ultimate protection.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed in a statement: “We will NOT allow this to become the new normal. We’ll use every tool we have to stop these attacks once and for all.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement that she was “deeply disturbed” by the attack. “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.”
Other current and former area representatives tweeted their outrage over the violence. Manhattan City Councilmember Mark Levine called the attack amid a frightening increase in anti-Semitic violence a “full blown crisis.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the recent displays of anti-Semitism, adding that Israel “will cooperate however possible with the local authorities in order to assist in defeating this phenomenon.”
President Donald Trump, in a statement Sunday afternoon, decried the attack as “horrific” while similarly condemning anti-Semitism.
“We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery,” he tweeted.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump released her own statement on Twitter earlier that morning that criticized the local government’s and national media’s responses to the violence, accusing both of not doing enough.
The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said early Sunday that people had continued their celebrations in the synagogue located next to Rottenberg’s home following Saturday’s stabbing attack.
Footage of the gathering shared on Twitter shows congregants clapping and singing. “‘The grace of God did not end and his mercy did not leave us,’ is a rough translation of the lyrics,” the council said of the clip.
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