Hanukkah stabbing that injured five called 'domestic terrorism' by New York governor

Ben Riley-Smith
Forshay Road in Monsey, N.Y - FR171683 AP

A stabbing at the house of a Hasidic rabbi in New York which left five injured has been condemned as “domestic terrorism” by the state’s governor. 

Andrew Cuomo said the attack during a gathering to celebrate Hanukkah was evidence of a “cancer” spreading in America as he warned of a surge in “hatred”.

Police named the suspect arrested as Grafton E. Thomas, 37. He will face five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. 

The attack happened around 10pm  on Saturday in Monsey, an area with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews which is about 35 miles north of the city of New York. 

Witnesses described a man bursting into the home of the rabbi, Chaim Rottenberg, where dozens of people had gathered on the seventh night of Hanukkah.

The assailant’s face was said to have been partially covered by a scarf and he brandished a large knife. Guests reportedly fought back by throwing tables and chairs. 

Police said the stabbings happened at around 10 p.m.  Credit: REUTERS 

The exact status of the victims was unclear on Sunday evening but one person was said to have been very seriously wounded. The rabbi’s son was among those injured. 

Aron Kohn, 65, who witnessed the attack told The New York Times: “I was praying for my life. He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”

“We saw him pull a knife out of a case. It was about the size of a broomstick.”

The attacker later attempted to enter a synagogue next door before fleeing the area. A witness noted the assailant’s license plate number and alerted the police, with a suspect later being arrested in Harlem. 

Extra police patrols were organised for three areas of Brooklyn, a New York borough with a large Jewish population, in the wake of the stabbing.

In Britain, the chief constable of West Midlands Police said he would provide reassurance to local Jewish communities.

Investigators cordoned off the large home on Forshay Road yellow crime scene tape Credit: Seth Harrison/The Journal News via AP

Mr Cuomo, who has been New York governor since 2011, said: “It is domestic terrorism. These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, and generate fear based on race, colour, creed. That is the definition of terrorism.

“Just because they don't come from another country doesn't mean they are not terrorists. They should be prosecuted as domestic terrorists."

"We are not going to let this poison spread. No one else can defeat this county, but this country can defeat itself.”

The stabbing is the latest in a string of brutal attacks that have alarmed the Jewish community, leading to renewed concerns about anti-Semitisim in America.

Earlier this month a shooting in a Jersey City kosher market saw three people inside the store and a police officer killed. The two attackers also died in a standoff with police. 

In October 2018, a gunman killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

Mr Coumo, speaking outside the rabbi’s house on Sunday, said: “This is an intolerant time in our country. We see anger, we see hatred exploding."

He added: “It is an American cancer on the body politic." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country “unequivocally condemns” the “vicious attack”. He pledged to “cooperate in every way” with the local authorities to help stamp out anti-Semitism.  It is not known how the suspect will plead. 

Ivanka Trump, a senior White House adviser and daughter of the US president, issued a call for more political action to tackle anti-Semitism in the wake of the attack.

She tweeted: "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."