December 29, 2019 / 3:23 PM / a month ago

Suspect in knife rampage at rabbi's home appears to have acted alone: New York police

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An assailant who stabbed five people attending a party at an Hasidic rabbi’s home in what New York’s governor called an act of domestic terrorism appears to have been acting alone, police said on Sunday.

Grafton Thomas, 37, is accused of attempted murder after bursting in to the Hanukkah celebration on Saturday night in Rockland County, about 30 miles (48 km) north of New York City. Police said he fled and was later arrested in Manhattan by two officers who were on the lookout for his car.

“We have nothing to indicate at this time that there were other people (involved), but that will be part of a very lengthy, very methodical and thorough investigation,” New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders, Shea said that the suspect said “almost nothing” to the young officers who took him into custody at gunpoint after stopping him in Harlem. Shea declined to say whether Thomas had previously been on the department’s radar.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the attack in the small town of Monsey, which followed days of anti-Semitic incidents in the New York City area, was an act of domestic terrorism.

“These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, color, creed,” Cuomo told reporters after meeting with some of the victims.

President Donald Trump called it an horrific attack.

“We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Thomas, from Greenwood Lake, New York, is due to return to court in the town of Ramapo on Jan. 3 after he was arraigned on Sunday on five counts of attempted murder and ordered held on $5 million bail.

ORTHODOX ENCLAVE

According to Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, the attacker had his face partially covered with a scarf when he stabbed five people, two of whom were in critical condition.

“One of the rabbi’s children was also stabbed,” Gestetner told reporters.

One witness who was at the rabbi’s home said he began praying for his life when he saw the assailant remove a large knife from a case.

A New York Police Department (NYPD) officer stands guard ahead of gathering at Grand Army Plaza in solidarity with the victims after an assailant stabbed five people attending a party at an Hasidic rabbi's home in Monsey, N.Y., on December 28, 2019, while they were celebrating Hanukkah, Brooklyn, New York City, U.S., December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

“It was about the size of a broomstick,” Aron Kohn told the New York Times.

Roughly a third of the population of Rockland County is Jewish, including a large enclave of Orthodox Jews who live in secluded communities.

Another attack took place in Monsey in November when a man walking to a synagogue was stabbed multiple times, according to media reports.

The attack on the party, which was attended by dozens of people, followed a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in New York City and surrounding areas.

New York City’s police department said on Friday it was stepping up patrols in heavily Jewish neighborhoods.

Shea told Sunday’s news conference there had been a 21% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the city this year.

‘VICIOUS ATTACK’

Saturday’s violence in Rockland County was at least the 10th anti-Semitic incident in the New York and New Jersey area in the last week, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization.

They included a 65-year-old man who was reportedly punched and kicked by an assailant yelling an anti-Semitic slur in Manhattan on Monday, and attacks on two other men in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Those incidents came after six people were killed during a shooting rampage at a kosher grocery store in northern New Jersey earlier this month.

Earlier this year, a gunman killed a female rabbi and wounded three people during Sabbath services at Congregation Chabad in Poway, near San Diego, on the last day of Passover in April 2019.

Six months before that, a gunman killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned “recent displays of antisemitism including the vicious attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey,” at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting.

Slideshow (16 Images)

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the 2nd century B.C. victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers in a revolt against armies of the Seleucid Empire.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council posted video on social media that showed the rabbi in Monsey and his followers continuing their celebrations at the synagogue next door, after the attack in his home.

It gave a rough translation of the lyrics they sang: “The grace of God did not end and his mercy did not leave us.”

Reporting by Maria Caspani; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in West Palm Beach and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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