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Police search for motive after imam is stabbed leading prayer at New Jersey mosque

Serif Zorba, 32, faces a number of charges in connection with the stabbing at the Omar Mosque, including attempted murder.
Omar Mosque in Paterson, N.J., on April 9, 2023.
An imam at the Omar Mosque in Paterson, about 15 miles north of Newark, was leading prayer when he was attacked.NBC New York

Authorities are investigating after a religious leader was attacked in a prominent New Jersey mosque Sunday.

An imam at the Omar Mosque in Paterson, about 15 miles north of Newark, was leading prayer when a man identified as Serif Zorba, 32, stabbed him multiple times in the back, police told NBC New York.

Abdul Hamden, a spokesperson for the mosque, told the station, “As they kneeled forward in the prayer, this person pulled out a knife and lunged at the imam, stabbing him multiple times in the back.”

Congregants rushed the man and held him down until police arrived and took him into custody, NBC New York reported.

Zorba faces a number of charges, including attempted murder.

Any motive was not immediately clear early Monday. 

The attack occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Police said Zorba had visited the mosque several times before to pray. 

Paterson police and the Omar Mosque did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh told reporters Sunday that the imam was recovering at a hospital.

“I did want to let him know that not only are we praying for him, but there will be extra protection around his mosque and other mosques,” he said in comments aired by NBC New York. “Extra police attention is automatic in a situation like this because, quite frankly, I feel like we could’ve lost this imam.”

Officers and police vehicles were stationed outside the mosque for the rest of the day.

“This will make us join with each other in a stronger fashion to even attend the mosque more regularly, to make sure we’re here with our brothers and sisters in solidarity,” Hamden said.

In a separate incident in Los Angeles, authorities were searching for a person who used a permanent marker to write anti-Islamic words on a mosque and an Islamic cultural center Sunday.

The Islamic Center of Southern California called the attack on its facility an "appalling act of vandalism targeting the center where innocent individuals gather for their daily religious observances."

"This hate crime is a reminder that we must stand together locally and internationally as a community against all forms of hate, bigotry, and violence," the center said in a statement urging anyone with information to come forward.