5 stabbed at rabbi’s Hanukkah celebration by intruder with machete-type knife

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MONSEY, N.Y. (ABC/WTNH) — Five members of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish congregation were stabbed on Saturday night by a man wielding a machete-type knife who barged into a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home in a New York City suburb and attacked victims at random, police and witnesses said.

Related: Connecticut leaders react to brutal attack at Rabbi’s Hanukkah celebration in New York

The frenzied violence unfolded just before 10 p.m. in Rockland County as up to 100 people were gathered in Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home in Monsey for a candle-lighting ceremony to commemorate the seventh night of Hanukkah.

While a motive is still being investigated, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the incident as “an act of domestic terrorism.”

A man stands outside the home of rabbi, Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019, after an attack that took place earlier outside the rabbi’s home during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.A man stands outside the home of rabbi, Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019, after an attack that took place earlier outside the rabbi’s home during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

Cuomo directed the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate the latest in a “disturbing” string of at least 13 anti-Semitic attacks in the New York-New Jersey region, including nine in New York City.

“It’s important for me to express to the rabbi and for all of the people of New York that intolerance meets ignorance, meets illegality. We see anger. We see hatred exploding. It’s an American cancer in the body politic,” Cuomo said during a visit Sunday morning to Monsey, a predominantly Orthodox Jewish community about 30 miles north of New York City.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenbergin in Monsey, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019.New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenbergin in Monsey, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019.Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

WEB EXTRA: Governor Andrew Cuomo gives a statement to the press regarding the stabbing incident in Monsey (P1/2)

WEB EXTRA: Governor Andrew Cuomo gives a statement to the press regarding the stabbing incident in Monsey (P2/2)

The victims injured in the attack were being treated at area hospitals, included one man who is in critical condition with a skull fracture, officials said.

The suspect, who authorities identified as 38-year-old Grafton Thomas, sped away in a gray 2015 Nissan Sentra, which was later located in Harlem, police said.

Thomas, who is from Greenwood Lake, New York, was arrested in New York City on Sunday morning after officers stopped him and noticed blood on his clothes and the smell of bleach, officials said.

Thomas is now charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary, police said. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment on Sunday morning and is being held on $5 million bond at the Rockland County Jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Suspect in Hanukkah celebration stabbings Grafton Thomas, leaves the Ramapo Town Hall in Ramapo Town Hall in Airmont, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019.Suspect in Hanukkah celebration stabbings Grafton Thomas, leaves the Ramapo Town Hall in Ramapo Town Hall in Airmont, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019.Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

Aron Kohn, one of those attending Rabbi Rottenberg’s Hanukkah ceremony, said he answered the front door of the rabbi’s house and was confronted by the tall, burly suspect wielding a knife so big that it was “almost like a broomstick.” He said the attacker burst into the home swinging the knife and cutting victims as panic spread through the residence and people began running out a back door.

“I asked, who is coming in, in the middle of the night, with an umbrella?” said Kohn. “While I was saying that … right away, boom, he pulled out the knife from the holder, from the case. And I’m throwing tables and chairs, that he should get out of here.”

Aron Kohn, who was attending an Orthodox Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, outside New York City, describes how an unknown assailant entered the house and stabbed five people, Dec. 28, 2019.Aron Kohn, who was attending an Orthodox Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, outside New York City, describes how an unknown assailant entered the house and stabbed five people, Dec. 28, 2019.Rockland Video

Kohn said the unidentified man ran past him, into a large room, where he attacked those inside.

“I saw him stabbing people,” Kohn said. “He injured a guy, he was bleeding [from his neck], he was bleeding in his hand, all over.”

Asked if the intruder had said anything to him when he met him at the door, Kohn said, “He said something but I couldn’t hear what he said.”

Kohn said he exited the house with “two ladies there, they came along with me, they were hysterical.” He said that the attacker then left the house and tried to run into the Congregation Netzach Yisroel synagogue building adjacent to the house, but the synagogue was locked.

Josef Gluck, manager of the synagogue, said he was sitting in the dining room with 40 to 50 people when the intruder barged in wearing a hoodie and a scarf covering his face, except for his eyes.

He said the suspect started hacking people in the dining room, before continuing the attack in the kitchen.

“He was just swinging his sword, knife — I don’t know what it was — back and forth hitting people. He didn’t say anything,” Gluck said.

Members of the Jewish community gather outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019, after an attack that took place earlier outside the rabbi’s home during Hanukkah.Members of the Jewish community gather outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, N.Y., Dec. 29, 2019, after an attack that took place earlier outside the rabbi’s home during Hanukkah.Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

The Rockland County District Attorney’s Office said the attacker was armed with a “machete-type” knife.

“It started a panic inside. Everybody started to run out the door to the back porch,” Gluck said.

Gluck said he ran out the back of the house pulling a few people out of harm’s way. He then tried to reenter the home through the front door.

“I opened the door and saw one older gentleman bleeding. I asked him to come out. He said, ‘I can’t I’m bleeding,'” Gluck said.

He said that before he could reach the wounded man the suspect charged out of the kitchen and headed straight for him.

“There was a small coffee table right when you come into the front door. I threw the coffee table at him and I started to run out again. He came after me,” Gluck said.

He said the suspect followed him to the front lawn, yelling, “‘Hey you, I’ll get you.'”

Gluck said the assailant then went to the adjacent synagogue and tried to open two doors that were locked from the inside. He said the attacker then walked to his car parked nearby and drove off.

Gluck said he managed to write down the car’s plate number and gave it to the police.

Commissioner Dermot Shea of the New York City Police Department said in a tweet that two NYPD officers he identified as Officers Radziwon and Mattera, both of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, arrested the suspect.

The attack came a day after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the NYPD was stepping up patrols at several synagogues in the city following a spate of anti-Semitic attacks over the past two weeks.

Three women were allegedly slapped Friday morning by another woman who said she thought they were Jewish, four days after surveillance video showed a 40-year-old man in traditional Jewish clothing being punched in the face.

“Anti-Semitism is an attack on the values of our city — and we will confront it head-on,” de Blasio said in a social media post Friday evening.

Cuomo said the 13 anti-Semitic incidents in New York state have all occurred since Dec. 8.

“This is a national phenomenon that we are seeing and it’s frightening, and it’s disturbing,” Cuomo said. “If anyone thinks something poisonous is not going on in this country then they’re in denial, frankly. How many incidents do you have to see from coast to coast.”

Cuomo has directed police across the state to increase patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in light of the recent attacks.

The Monsey attack came just 17 days after two people, a man, and a woman, stormed a Jersey City, New Jersey, kosher supermarket, in an apparent act of domestic terrorism and fatally shooting three people before they were both killed by police. The alleged shooters, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, are also suspected of killing of Jersey City Det. Joseph Seals that same day in a cemetery about a mile from the kosher market, and were prime suspects in the killing of an Uber driver, whose body was discovered on Dec. 7 in the trunk of a car in Bayonne, New Jersey, authorities said.

Both Anderson and Graham are believed to have expressed interest in the Black Israelites, a group that espouses hatred toward Jews and is known for anti-government and anti-police sentiments, sources told ABC News.

Police respond to a house in the New York City suburb of Monsey, New York, where officials say five Hasidic Jews were stabbed during a Hanukkah celebration, Dec. 28, 2019.Police respond to a house in the New York City suburb of Monsey, New York, where officials say five Hasidic Jews were stabbed during a Hanukkah celebration, Dec. 28, 2019.WABC

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, expressed outraged over Saturday night’s attack.

“Again, here we are: mourning another act of senseless anti-Semitic violence committed against our community and praying for those who were the victims of this hate,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

“When will enough be enough?” Greenblatt continued. “These heinous attacks make something abundantly clear: the Jewish community needs greater protection. Whether worshipping in a synagogue, or shopping at a kosher supermarket, or celebrating Hanukkah in the home of your rabbi, Jews should be safe from violence. We are calling for increased protection for the Jewish community now and for those in positions of power and leadership to guarantee that the full force of the law is brought down on those who perpetrate these horrific crimes.”

The violent attack sent shockwaves all the way to Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack during an Israeli cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“Israel unequivocally condemns the recent manifestations of anti-Semitism and the vicious attack in the middle of the Hanukkah holiday at the Rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York,” Netanyahu said. “We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities in order to help defeat this phenomenon. We offer our help to each and every state.”

President Donald Trump called the incident “horrific” and wished the victims a “quick and full recovery.”

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, also took to Twitter to denounce the attack as “an act of pure evil.”

“Attacks on Jewish New Yorkers were reported almost every single day this past week,” Ivanka Trump said in her tweet. “The increasing frequency of anti-Semitic violence in New York (and around the country) receives far too little local governmental action and national press attention.”

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council for the Hudson Valley region tweeted reports that the stabbings took place at the house of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration.

Sunday Morning, OJPAC tweeted a video of the Rabbi’s followers gathered in the synagogue adjacent to the home where the attack took place.

“The grace of God did not end and his mercy did not leave us,” OJPAC tweeted.

The attack drew condemnation from top state officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James, as well as from Israel’s president and prime minister.

“Israel unequivocally condemns the recent expressions of anti-Semitism and the vicious attack in the middle of Hanukkah on the rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York.

We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities in order to defeat this phenomenon. We offer our help to each and every state.”

– Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“I am so sad for this openly #orthodox #Jewish community & the ones across the region,” tweeted Evan Bernstein, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey who went to the scene in Monsey. “When will a break from this hate come? When will the community be able to be relaxed again? #Hanukkah will never be the same for so many of the #Jews impacted.”

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