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New York Hanukkah stabbing suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder

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Police officers escort Grafton Thomas to a police vehicle.
Police officers escort Grafton Thomas to a police vehicle.   -   Copyright  Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved   -   Julius Constantine Motal
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The man accused of stabbing five people at a Hanukkah celebration in New York on December 28 has been charged with federal hate crimes.

The city's governor said, the attack waan act of domestic terrorism fueled by a 'cancer' of growing hatred in America.

Grafton E. Thomas, 37, was arrested in Manhattan on Saturday night, smelling of bleach and with blood all over his clothes, police said, but saying nothing about the attack. One person was critically wounded in the attack, in the Orthodox Jewish community of Monsey.

Thomas later pled not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary.

Internet searches on a phone recovered from his car included repeated searches for "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" as well as "German Jewish Temples near me" and "Prominent companies founded by Jews in America," the complaint said.

On Dec. 28, the phone's internet browser was used to access an article titled: “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here's What To Know,” the complaint said.

Thomas' family said he was raised to embrace tolerance but has a history of mental illness.

“Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime,” his family said late Sunday in a statement issued by attorney Michael Sussman. “He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”

“We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness,” the statement said.

"Larger problem in society"

New York governor Andrew Cuomo said it was an example of a larger problem in society.

"``This is an intolerant time in our country,'' he said to reporters outside the rabbi's home on Sunday morning. ``We see anger, we see hatred exploding.''

"``It is an American cancer on the body politic,'' he added.

He said he thought the crime was an act of domestic terrorism and expected it to be prosecuted that way.

“Anti-Semitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values,” he said in a statement. “In New York, we will always stand up and say with one voice to anyone who wishes to divide and spread fear: you do not represent New York and your actions will not go unpunished.''

US President Donald reacted to the attack on Twitter, calling for unity against "the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.

New York State Attorney General Leticia James said she was “deeply disturbed," adding: “There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation. I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night.”

A witness, Aron Kohn told The New York Times he was inside the residence during the stabbings.

``I was praying for my life,'' said Kohn, 65. ``He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn't have time to react at all.''

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.

Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said officers received reports of a stabbing just before 10 p.m. at a residence in Monsey, New York — about an hour north of New York City.

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 while they were celebrating the seventh night of Hanukkah.

Several state and local officials have described the location of the stabbing as a synagogue.

The attack comes on the heels of apparent anti-Semitic attacks reported throughout the city during Hanukkah, and a December 10 shooting rampage in a New Jersey kosher market that left six dead.

Around New York City itself police have received eight reports since December 13 of attacks possibly motivated by anti-Semitism. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised that the police presence would increase in Brooklyn neighbourhoods with large Jewish populations.

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