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Suspect in death of 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was obsessed with Israel-Hamas war, prosecutors say

Hundreds are expected to attend the funeral of Wadea Al-Fayoume, whose death is being investigated as an anti-Muslim hate crime.
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The suburban Chicago landlord accused of stabbing a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy to death and badly wounding his mother was ordered held behind bars Monday while federal authorities opened a hate crimes investigation into what they say was a deadly anti-Muslim attack.

Dressed in an orange prison-issued jumpsuit, his hair disheveled, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba answered "yes sir" to the judge but otherwise sat quietly in a Will County courtroom where he was formally charged with three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of committing a hate crime.

Investigators said the deadly attack that resulted in the death of Wadea Al-Fayoume was linked to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.

6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume.
6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume.Courtesy of Hela Yousef

In the petition requesting that Czuba be detained, Assistant State's Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said that right before the attack, the landlord confronted the boy's mother, Hanaan Shahin, and "told her he was angry at her for what was going on" in Israel.

Shahin "stated she responded to him 'let's pray for peace'," the petition said. Shahin "stated Czuba gave her no chance to do anything ... then attacked her with a knife."

Czuba, the boy's mother told investigators, was an "angry" man. His wife, Mary, told investigators that Czuba "listens to conservative talk radio on a regular basis" and became obsessed with the war between Hamas and Israel.

Shahin also told police she had been texting Czuba's wife about her husband's "hatred for Muslims." Last Wednesday, Oct. 11, Czuba said he wanted Shahin and her son to "move out of the home," Mary Czuba told investigators. Shahin told deputies that on the same day, Czuba "confronted her about what was going on in the Middle East."

Czuba was represented by public defender did not respond to a request for comment, but told the court the suspect was a veteran who served in the U.S. military from 1969 to 1973 and has ongoing medical issues, including a prior diagnosis of prostate cancer, that would make it "potentially difficult to accommodate him in jail."

The judge disagreed, saying Czuba remains a threat to Shahin and "the community in general," and sent him back to jail. He is due back in court on Oct. 30.

The public defender did not respond to a request for comment.

Czuba's arraignment and detention came the day Wadea was laid to rest at a nearby cemetery. Authorities said he died Saturday after the landlord stabbed him 26 times.

His 32-year-old mother was stabbed a dozen times while trying to protect her son and call for help, police said. She was still recovering at the hospital while mourners gathered for her son's funeral at the Mosque Foundation in suburban Bridgeview.

Czuba was screaming "you Muslims have to die" when he barged into the ground-floor apartment the mother and son shared in suburban Plainfield, family friend Yousef Hannon told NBC News before the funeral, citing texts she sent to the boy's father. Hannon said Czuba also shouted: "You are killing our kids in Israel. You Palestinians don’t deserve to live."

Shaheen "didn't have even one percent suspicion he would hurt the child" because Czuba had been like a grandfather to Wadea and even built him a tree house, Hannon said.

"The child, when he saw Czuba, ran to him for a hug and instead was stabbed 26 times," Hannon said.

Wadea was pronounced dead at the hospital, after which a forensic pathologist removed a "military style knife" with a seven-inch blade from his abdomen, the Will County sheriff’s office said in a news release.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, which is based in Chicago, opened a federal criminal hate crimes investigation into the killing.

The brutal assault was condemned earlier by President Joe Biden and sparked fears that the war between Hamas and Israel could result in retribution attacks against Palestinian immigrants in the U.S.

"Hate has no place in America," Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement released Monday. "We unequivocally condemn hate and Islamophobia and stand with the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American communities."

Wadea's family came to the U.S. from the West Bank and settled in the Chicago suburbs about a dozen years ago to get away from the settler violence in the Palestinian territory, according to the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“I was talking to the father and he said, ‘Part of the reason we came here was to escape the settler violence in which situations like this could occur with impunity and it chased us all the way to the United States,’” Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of CAIR Chicago said Sunday.

Reached by telephone, Czuba's brother, David, said the family was preparing a statement and declined to make any further comment.

Czuba did not "make any statements to detectives regarding his involvement in this heinous attack" when sheriff's deputies responding to the unfolding tragedy found him with a laceration on his forehead "sitting upright outside on the ground near the driveway of the residence," the Will County sheriff’s office said earlier.

"Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis," the sheriff’s office said.