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Cornell University student threatened to stab and rape Jewish students and ‘shoot up’ school, prosecutors say

The alleged threats alarmed students and focused more national attention on the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
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A 21-year-old Cornell University junior was charged Tuesday for making online threats to Jewish students at the Ivy League school, authorities said.

Patrick Dai, a junior at Cornell, faces a charge of posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications, federal prosecutors in the Northern District of New York said.

In a post in an online discussion board, prosecutors said, the student allegedly threatened to "shoot up" a campus building. In another post, he said he would "stab" or "slit the throat" of Jewish men, and rape or throw off a cliff Jewish women he encounters on campus, according to the prosecutors.

He also said he would behead Jewish babies and threatened to "bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you" Jewish people, prosecutors said, attributing the words to Dai.

He was slated to make an initial appearance in Syracuse federal court Wednesday, prosecutors said. If convicted he would face a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

It was not clear if Dai has retained legal counsel. The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The federal complaint filed against Dai states he admitted to making the threats. "Dai admitted, after receiving Miranda warnings, that he was the person who used the internet to post the threatening messages described above," the complaint, citing an interview of the suspect by the FBI earlier in the day, said.

Investigators said they traced threatening communication to the suspect's Internet Protocol or IP address, a number unique to a device or network connected to the internet.

Earlier Tuesday Cornell officials confirmed that a person who made antisemitic threats against Jewish students at the Ivy League school over the weekend had been identified and taken into custody.

“Cornell University is grateful to the FBI for working so swiftly to identify and apprehend the suspect in this case, a Cornell student, who remains in custody," Joel M. Malina, Cornell's vice president for university relations said in a statement Tuesday night.

He continued, "We remain shocked by and condemn these horrific, antisemitic threats and believe they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." 

The threats alarmed students on the university's campus in Ithaca, New York, and put more national attention on the reported rise in antisemitism in the U.S. since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

The Anti-Defamation League said last Tuesday that preliminary data shows a nearly 400% increase in reported incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault since Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people.

In testimony during a Senate hearing Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said antisemitic threats in the U.S. are reaching "historic levels," with the Jewish community "targeted by terrorists really across the spectrum," from "homegrown violent extremists" to "foreign terrorist organizations."

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has likewise stoked fears of Islamophobia spreading across the U.S. and other Western countries.

A New York State Police Department cruiser sits parked at Cornell University's Center for Jewish Living
A New York State Police Department cruiser sits parked at Cornell University's Center for Jewish Living, in Ithaca, N.Y., on Oct 30, 2023.David Bauder / AP

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said last Wednesday that it has recorded nearly 800 complaints and reported bias incidents from Muslims nationwide since Oct. 7.

The organization went on to say that the "actual numbers may be higher, as hate crimes against Muslims in America remain massively underreported."

The threats at Cornell, which the university's president said had specifically named the school's Center for Jewish Living, came after weeks of heated protests and demonstrations over the war at colleges across the country.

In interviews, college students have described an increase in tensions on campus, and in some cases university administrators have been forced to intervene.

Syracuse University, for example, announced earlier Tuesday that an event featuring a “teach-in” lecture from a Middle Eastern studies scholar would be canceled after a faculty member contacted the school with “safety concerns.”

“Syracuse University is not able to confidently ensure the safety of the attendees, the speaker and our whole campus community and, thus, has made the decision that this event will not occur as scheduled today,” the school’s chancellor and president said in a message to the community Tuesday afternoon.

In recent days, images and videos circulating on social media have intensified concerns about other antisemitic threats around college campuses.

In one video uploaded to X, a partially masked man in Harvard Square, near Harvard University, claims he had been ripping down flyers with the faces of people taken hostage by Hamas terrorists and says Jewish people should be "exterminated."

In a statement Tuesday, a Harvard University spokesperson said the incident happened on a city sidewalk in Cambridge and the local police department was "looking into it," adding that the school's police department was "supporting ... as needed."

The university spokesperson said there was "no indication" that the masked man in the video is "a Harvard student or community member."