Landlord indicted on murder, hate crime in fatal attack on Palestinian American boy and stabbing of mother

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Caroline Kubzansky | Chicago Tribune

The man accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy and severely injuring his mother days after the Hamas attack was indicted by a Will County grand jury on hate crime, murder and other charges, prosecutors said Thursday.

Joseph Czuba, 71, faces three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery and two counts of hate crime in connection with a knife attack that killed Wadea Al-Fayoume and left his mother, Hanaan Shahin, hospitalized.

Czuba, who was the family’s landlord, was pushed to attack his Muslim tenants at their shared at his unincorporated Plainfield Township home after listening to conservative talk radio discussion of the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas, Will County prosecutors said during his Oct. 16 court hearing.

Judge Donald DeWilkins ordered Czuba held in custody. His next court hearing is set for Monday.

Czuba is accused of acting “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty” in his alleged actions toward Wadea and Shahin, per court records.

President Joe Biden mentioned Wadea by name last week during a prime-time speech where he condemned antisemitic and Islamophobic violence in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

Will County sheriff’s deputies responded to Shahin’s call that her landlord was attacking her with a knife the morning of Oct. 14. Officers found Shahin severely injured and Wadea stabbed 26 times.

Shahin was hospitalized at the time of her son’s funeral, which drew hundreds of people and elected officials to pay their respects.

PLAINFIELD, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 17: Sereena Baig leaves items at a memorial in front of the home where 6-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed to death Saturday by his landlord on October 17, 2023 in Plainfield, Illinois. His mother, Hanaan Shahin, also suffered more than a dozen stab wounds and remains hospitalized. Police have said that the family was attacked because of their Muslim faith. Today his hometown held a vigil in his memory which drew more than a thousand people. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Thousands attended a vigil to honor Wadea’s life held the day after his funeral, where many condemned “hateful rhetoric” that allegedly pushed Czuba to attack the boy and his mother.

Federal authorities including the FBI and the Department of Justice’s the civil rights division are investigating the attack.

Illinois authorities are investigating other possible hate crimes and threats against Muslims that have occurred in recent weeks, including the case of a Lombard man who allegedly threatened to shoot two Muslim men outside his apartment building. A pair of Muslim schools in Bridgeview also kept students home last week after one of the institutions received a threatening letter that referenced Wadea’s death.

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