Federal prosecutors filed hate crime charges Monday against the man accused of stabbing five people at a Hanukkah celebration over the weekend in New York.
Grafton Thomas, 37, faces five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill. Each count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“As alleged, Grafton Thomas targeted his victims in the midst of a religious ceremony, transforming a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.
Mr. Thomas is accused of a horrific machete attack at a Hanukkah celebration Saturday at the home of Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg in Monsey, New York.
Monsey sits about 35 miles from New York City and is known for its large, ultra-Orthodox Jewish population.
New York state prosecutors already have charged Mr. Thomas with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. He has pleaded not guilty to the state charges.
The federal charges against Mr. Thomas came after authorities discovered anti-Semitic writings and drawings in his journals and on his phone. On one journal page, Mr. Thomas drew a Star of David and a swastika and also wrote about Adolf Hitler and Nazi culture, according to court documents.
Internet searches on Mr. Thomas’ phone included “Why did Hitler hate the Jews,” and searches for German Jewish temples and Zionist temples “near me,” according to court documents.
Prosecutors say Mr. Thomas barged into the home brandishing a machete and with his face covered by a white scarf. He told the worshippers that “no one is leaving,” according to court documents.
Police arrested Mr. Thomas in Manhattan on Saturday night after he allegedly fled the stabbing scene.
The victims were hospitalized with wounds that included a severed finger and deep lacerations. At least one victim who suffered a skull fracture was in serious condition.
Mr. Thomas has been hospitalized on multiple occasions because of mental illness, according to a joint statement by his family and his attorney, Michael H. Sussman.
Still, the allegations caught them off guard, his family said.
“He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime. He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home that embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups,” the statement said.
Politicians and others have condemned the attack as an act of terrorism.
“No one in this country should be fearful of practicing their religion, yet that’s exactly what we’re witnessing,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. “To enter a home and viciously stab five worshippers with a machete is an unthinkable act of terror, plain and simple.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, called the stabbings a “cowardly act” and domestic terrorism.
The stabbing incident was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Jewish people across the country, particularly in the New York area. Earlier this month, a couple opened fire on a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, killing four people, including a police officer.
The shooters were killed exchanging gunfire with police. At least one was identified as a member of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. Some groups within the movement harbor anti-Semitic beliefs, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Last year, a man opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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