(NEW YORK) — An Illinois man pleaded not guilty Monday in the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Muslim boy in the Chicago suburb of Plainfield earlier this month, according to Chicago ABC station WLS.
Joseph Czuba allegedly stabbed Wadea Al-Fayoume 26 times with a “military-style knife” and also stabbed his mother Hanan Shaheen more than a dozen times in the incident, according to police. Shaheen survived the attack.
Czuba was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of a hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Authorities have claimed the victims “were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
The Justice Department has also opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the alleged murder of the boy and wounding of his mother, according to a statement.
The incident took place on Oct. 14, just before noon local time, when deputies were sent to a residence after a call about a stabbing between a landlord and tenant.
During Czuba’s arraignment on Oct. 16, Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said Shaheen told investigators that when first confronted by Czuba over the violence in the Holy Land, she told him, “Let’s pray for peace.”
The two were found in the bedroom of a residence. Both victims had multiple stab wounds to their chest, torso and upper extremities, authorities said.
Shaheen, 32, was taken to the hospital in serious condition. She was treated and released last week.
Wadea was taken to the hospital in critical condition and succumbed to his injuries, the sheriff’s department said.
Wadea, whose name means “beautiful,” loved playing soccer, learning about the solar system and swinging in the park, his mother told ABC News in an interview last week. He was excited each day to go to school and had turned 6 years old just eight days before he was killed, she said.
The tragic incident comes as federal agencies sound the alarm on increased reports of threats against Muslim, Jewish and Arab communities across the country amid the Israel-Hamas war.
The FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center found an increase in recent reports of physical assaults, bomb threats and online calls for mass-casualty attacks due to tension from the overseas conflict.
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