The man suspected of fatally stabbing 6-year-old Palestinian American boy Wadea Al-Fayoume and wounding his mother, Hanan Shaheen, on Saturday was a regular listener of conservative talk radio — and hosts’ programming on the Hamas attack on Israelis ultimately led him to carry out the horrific attack, prosecutors have said.
Joseph Czuba, 71, made his initial appearance in court in Will County, Illinois, on Monday after he allegedly stabbed Al-Fayoume 26 times; as he appeared in court, mourners held a funeral for the young Muslim boy at a local mosque. Shaheen was not in attendance because she was hospitalized after the attack.
According to prosecutors, Czuba’s wife said that he regularly listens to conservative talk radio and that, in days before the attack, became irritated over the call for a supposed “national day of jihad” on October 13 — a bunk and perhaps purposeful misinterpretation by right-wing figures of a comment made by a former leader of Hamas to Reuters last Wednesday.
Czuba had been listening to right-wing radio coverage of the Hamas attack in the days before the attack, his wife told detectives, and wanted Shaheen to move out. He evidently believed that he was personally endangered by Shaheen’s presence and that Shaheen “was going to call Palestinian friends to come and harm” him and his wife, said Michael Fitzgerald, a Will County assistant state’s attorney, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Even though the unsubstantiated threat of “jihad” — a word broadly meaning “struggle” that has been misinterpreted in the U.S. for decades — never came to pass, Czuba still believed something would happen the next day, his wife said. That Saturday morning, he knocked on Shaheen’s door and began arguing with her about the war in Israel.
Shaheen told investigators that she responded, “let’s pray for peace,” after which Czuba began attacking her with a knife. She locked herself in the bathroom and called 911 and told dispatchers that “the landlord is killing her baby with a knife,” Fitzgerald said.
Al-Fayoume was a playful child who loved Legos, swimming, jumping, and playing games, family members and friends said. He had just turned six a few days before he was killed.
Czuba had no prior criminal convictions, public defender Kylie Blatti said in court. A neighbor said that Czuba had helped to build a treehouse for Al-Fayoume only a few years ago, according to The New York Times.
Muslim and Palestinian advocates have strongly condemned the escalation in Islamophobic rhetoric in the days following the Hamas attack and Israel’s subsequent ethnic cleansing of Gaza, in which Israel has killed over 1,000 children so far. Advocates say that anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian rhetoric bears responsibility for Al-Fayoume’s killing.
“We welcome the federal hate crime investigation and hope this tragic case will remind public officials and commentators why they must end dehumanizing anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian bigotry when speaking out about the ongoing violence in the Middle East,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell in a statement on Monday.
“Media outlets, political leaders and major corporations have spent more than a week ignoring the suffering of the Palestinian people, justifying war crimes against Palestinians, and spreading inflammatory propaganda and misinformation aimed at Muslims and Palestinians here in America,” Mitchell continued. “This must end. Now.”
The “global day of jihad” rhetoric, for instance, may have played a role in the young boy’s death.
In his Reuters interview, former Hamas leader Khaled Meshal never called for a “global day of jihad,” but the phrase quickly spread across far-right forums and social media networks like X, formerly Twitter. Users referred to Muslim people with racial slurs and told each other to stock up on weapons and ammo.
Prominent conservative figures, including Republican members of Congress, amplified the message. Several Fox News hosts warned about the “day of jihad,” while Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk — who hosts a show that is broadcast on right wing radio stations — said that “we have invited some of the most disgusting people on the planet into the West” and that “we shouldn’t be surprised” if something ad were to happen on the “global day of jihad” on the 13th.
Ultimately, there was no organized global protest or other action that conservatives had spread fear about. But there was at least one incident of violence carried out against a Palestinian-American family, allegedly motivated by the fear mongering.
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