(NBC4 NEW YORK) Authorities say an Orange County man stabbed five people at a rabbi’s home late Saturday night in Monsey, New York — the latest and most violent in a string of anti-Semitic attacks in the greater New York City area in the last few days.
President Trump reacted to the anti-Semitic attack on Twitter and said, “We must all come together to fight, confront and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.”
Adding that he and the First Lady wish the victims a “quick and full recovery.”
Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said the suspected attacker, identified as Grafton Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, entered the residence around 10 p.m. armed with a knife. Saturday was the seventh night of Hanukkah and was being widely observed in Monsey, a hamlet that is home to thousands of Orthodox Jews. There were as many as 70 people in the rabbi’s home at the time of the attack.
The Hasidic organization Chabad, citing sources in the community and witnesses at the scene, said someone in the home threw a table at the attacker, chasing him off. He then allegedly tried to gain access to the synagogue next door, but the occupants barricaded themselves inside. Thomas then allegedly fled the scene in a silver sedan, according to witnesses.
By midnight, Thomas was located in Harlem and taken into custody by the NYPD. A senior law enforcement official told NBC 4 New York he was caught in his vehicle. License plate readers on the George Washington Bridge and in Harlem helped police zero in on the car’s location, according to the official.
Thomas, who had blood on his clothing and smelled of bleach when police found him, pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary at his arraignment on Sunday. His bail was set at $5 million.
His defense said Thomas lives with his mother and claimed he had no criminal history, but an assistant district attorney at his arraignment said he had been arrested for menacing and reckless endangerment in Greenwood Lake this past summer, without elaborating.
The judge at the arraignment issued orders of protection in favor of the five stabbing victims that bar Thomas from going to the house where he allegedly stabbed them.
The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said the five victims, all Hasidic, were transported to local hospitals with stab wounds. As of Sunday afternoon, one of the victims was still in critical condition with a skull fracture, according to the assistant district attorney.
The attack took place in the house of Hasidic Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg during a Hanukkah celebration, Michael Specht, supervisor of the town of Ramapo that also services Monsey, told NBC News.
Rottenberg runs the synagogue next door to his home. Video obtained by NBC News shows Rottenberg holding a gathering at his home after the attack, addressing a group of Hasidic men and leading them in song.
At a news conference outside Rabbi Rottenberg’s home Sunday morning, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the rabbi’s son was one of the stabbing victims, noting that he was “recovering.”
One of the victims who was in critical condition after the attack sustained “wounds to the head,” Cuomo said.
“It’s important for me to express to the rabbi and to all the people of the state of New York that this is intolerance, meets, ignorance, meets illegality,” he said. “This is violence spurred by hate, it is mass violence, and I consider this an act of domestic terrorism.”
“These people are domestic terrorists, and the law should reflect that, and they should be punished as if it was an act of terrorism,” Cuomo added, noting that he would include a proposal along those lines in his “State of State” address at the beginning of next year.
The NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau said was “closely monitoring” the situation. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Sunday said the department had increased patrols at “key locations to ensure that everyone is safe during this holiday season, and into the new year.”
A senior law enforcement official told NBC New York the FBI was sending criminal and counter-terror investigators to Rockland County to assist local authorities.
The attack comes on the heels of half-a-dozen hate crimes across New York City in recent weeks that targeted the Jewish community.
In just the last week alone, including those stabbed in Ramapo, at least 10 Jews have been injured in the spate of violence in New York City and surrounding towns. That follows the attack on a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City earlier this month that left a cop and three civilians dead.
Mayor de Blasio said Friday that police presence would increase in Crown Heights and two other Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Jewish populations.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement shortly after midnight that read in part, “This was a despicable and cowardly act, and I am directing the State Police hate crimes task force to immediately investigate and to use every tool available to hold the attacker accountable to the fullest extent of the law. State Police are currently on the scene assisting local law enforcement.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also took to Twitter to say that he was “shocked and outraged” by the incident and that he was praying for the injured.
“#Antisemitism is not just a #Jewish problem, and certainly not just the State of #Israel’s problem,” Rivlin wrote. “We must work together to confront this rising evil, which is a real global threat.”