A 71-year-old Illinois man has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder in a brutal knife attack that killed a 6-year-old Muslim boy and seriously injured his 32-year-old mother. Authorities said the suspect targeted the victims because of their Islamic faith and as a violent response to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
The attack occurred late Saturday morning at a home in unincorporated Plainfield Township, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. Deputies responding to a 911 call from the home found the woman with multiple stab wounds and the young child deceased. An autopsy revealed the boy, identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, had been stabbed dozens of times.
The Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that detectives determined both victims were “targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
Joseph M. Czuba, 71, of Plainfield Township was arrested outside the home shortly after the attacks with a cut on his forehead. He has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery. Czuba was in custody Sunday awaiting a court appearance.
The shocking hate crime comes amid a spike in anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents across the U.S. in recent days as the conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated. The FBI and Muslim advocacy groups have reported an increase in threats and harassment targeting both Jewish and Muslim communities.
At a Sunday press conference, the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) identified the surviving victim as the murdered boy’s mother. CAIR called the crime a “horrific act of hate” and part of a disturbing trend of racist threats faced by American Muslims.
“We are not animals, we are humans. We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans, because this is what we are,” said Yousef Hannon, the boy’s paternal uncle, who emigrated from Palestine in 1999.
Hannon said the tight-knit Palestinian American community was grieving the loss of an innocent child while also fearing for their safety in the wake of the hate-fueled attack. Little Wadea had only recently turned 6 years old.
CAIR shared text messages from the family indicating Czuba had made prior bigoted comments about Muslims. Authorities have not released a motive but said evidence shows the victims’ Islamic faith played a role in their targeting.
In response to increased threats nationwide, the Illinois State Police and FBI said they are communicating with faith leaders in Muslim and Jewish communities to offer support and encourage reporting of suspicious activity.
Gov. JB Pritzker denounced the murders as an evil act of bigotry enabled by antisemitism and Islamophobia. President Biden called it a “horrific act of hate” that threatened core American values of religious freedom.
The regional FBI director said agents are working urgently across the country to assess and mitigate hate crime threats stemming from the Hamas-Israel conflict. Most have been deemed non-credible so far.
The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a nonprofit humanitarian organization, has launched an effort to return Wadea’s body to his extended family living in the occupied West Bank. His parents immigrated from the territory to the U.S. before Wadea was born.
“He never in his life saw Palestine or his grandparents or cousins or uncles,” said PCRF Executive Director Steve Sosebee. “And now we want to bring him back there so he can be buried where his family can visit him.”
The shocking murders have devastated the local Palestinian community in suburban Chicago as they grieve the loss of Wadea while continuing to worry for their safety. Many Palestinian families immigrated to the U.S. in recent decades to escape violence but now feel threatened even on American soil.
Palestinian Americans living in the safety of the U.S. still carry deep wounds and intergenerational trauma from the enduring conflict in their homeland, said mental health specialists. This harm can be triggered and exacerbated by current events like the Hamas-Israel violence and acts of hate targeting their communities in America.
Experts advise practicing self-care, limiting exposure to graphic images and content from the region, staying busy with work or hobbies, and surrounding yourself with community while avoiding excessive isolation. Seek professional counseling if needed to process fears or grief.
Mutual aid networks like the Palestinian Youth Movement provide communal healing spaces. Experts also recommend allyship with other marginalized groups, solidarity protests, political activism around Palestinian rights, artistic expression, and effort toward lasting policy change.
For many, their Palestinian identity is as strong as ever despite distance and time away from the land of their ancestors. Hannon, the bereaved uncle, said at Sunday’s news conference: “Being a Palestinian, I don’t care if I live in America for the next 40 years. I will still have my Palestinian blood, and I will teach my kids they are Palestinians.”
This heartbreaking case underscores the deep roots and lived trauma of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not just in the Middle East but also among diaspora communities around the world praying now for peace and justice. To learn more, subscribe for ongoing coverage of the Hamas-Israel war, hate crimes targeting Muslims and Jews in America, and historic persecution of the Palestinian people since 1948.