30 October 2023

Man pleads not guilty over attack on Muslim mother and son in US

30 October 2023

A man accused of murder, attempted murder and a hate crime in an attack on a Palestinian American woman and her young son has pleaded not guilty following his indictment by a grand jury in the US state of Illinois.

Joseph Czuba, 71, is charged over the fatal stabbing of six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and the wounding of Hanaan Shahin on October 14.

Authorities said the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Ms Shahin told police that Czuba, her landlord in Plainfield in Will County, was upset over the war and attacked them after she had urged him to “pray for peace”.

Czuba appeared in court wearing a red jail uniform, socks and yellow rubber slippers.

His lawyer George Lenard entered the not guilty plea after the judge read the eight-count indictment.

Czuba did not speak, looking down at the podium with his hands folded behind his back as he stood before the judge in the court in Joliet, 50 miles south-west of Chicago.

Ms Shahin, 32, is recovering from multiple stab wounds.

Hundreds of people attended her son’s funeral on October 16 where he was remembered as an energetic boy who loved playing games.

He had recently had a birthday.

The boy’s father and other family members attended the hearing. They declined to speak to reporters.

The murder charge in the indictment against Czuba describes the boy’s death as the result of “exceptionally brutal or heinous behaviour”.

The attack on the family – which renewed anti-Islamic fears in the Chicago area’s large and established Palestinian community – has drawn condemnation from the White House.

Judge David Carlson ruled that Czuba will remain detained as he awaits a January 8 court hearing.

In arguing to keep Czuba detained, Will County assistant state’s attorney Michael Fitzgerald said Czuba was a danger to Ms Shahin and others.

“We also believe he is a threat to the safety of the community,” he said.

Czuba’s lawyers disagreed, citing Czuba’s age and the fact that he is a veteran without any criminal convictions.

Mr Lenard and Mr Fitzgerald declined to comment to reporters after the hearing.

Ms Shahin asked the public to “pray for peace” and said her son was her best friend in a statement issued last week through the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The attack comes amid rising hostility against Muslim and Jewish communities in the US since Hamas attacked Israel.

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