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New York governor calls Monsey attack terrorism, as police arrest suspect

Grafton Thomas, 37, to be charged with 5 counts of attempted murder; Saturday’s machete rampage comes as series of anti-Semitic hate crimes rock NY

Police officers escort Grafton Thomas, the suspect in a stabbing spree at a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York, to a police vehicle in Ramapo, New York, December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Julius Constantine Motal)
Police officers escort Grafton Thomas, the suspect in a stabbing spree at a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York, to a police vehicle in Ramapo, New York, December 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Julius Constantine Motal)

A suspect in Saturday evening’s machete attack in the Jewish enclave of Monsey, New York, was arrested in upper Manhattan just after midnight local time following a two-hour search, CBS news reported.

The suspect, a man named as Grafton Thomas, 37, in media reports, was arrested driving a gray Nissan Sentra at the intersection of West 144th Street and Adam Clayton Boulevard in Harlem and taken to the city’s 32nd precinct for questioning before being returned to Rockland County.

Police declined to disclose any significant information regarding the suspect, but did announce that he had covered his face with a scarf during the attack.

He is being charged with five counts of attempted murder.

On Saturday evening around 10 p.m., the attacker, armed with a machete, entered the home of Rabbi Chaim Leibish Rottenberg, who was hosting a Hanukkah gathering. In the ensuing melee, attendees hurled tables and chairs to fend off the knifeman, who stabbed five people before leaving the building in the direction of the nearby synagogue. He fled the scene after realizing the Jewish house of worship was locked, eyewitnesses said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media outside the home of rabbi Chaim Rottenberg after a machete attack that took place inside the rabbi’s home during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Monsey, New York on December 29, 2019. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

The attack left at least two people in critical condition and reignited fears of anti-Semitism in the insular ultra-Orthodox community, just a month after another stabbing attack there and amid what officials have described as a spate of anti-Jewish assaults in the New York region.

Speaking at the scene of the attack on Sunday morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the rampage “an act of domestic terrorism,” adding that the state stood “in solidarity with all members of the Jewish community.”

“This is an act of terrorism. I think these are domestic terrorists. They are trying to inflict fear,” Cuomo told reporters. “We are going to enforce the laws and make sure acts like this do not happen — and if they happen, they are punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

In a statement posted on Twitter, Cuomo said that he had directed the police’s hate crimes division “to immediately investigate and to use every tool available to hold the attacker accountable to the fullest extent of the law.” He condemned the rampage as a “despicable and cowardly act.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James also issued a statement after the attack, pledging “zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to pledge that the city would “NOT allow this to become the new normal” and would “use every tool we have to stop these attacks once and for all.”

As part of this effort, he continued, the NYPD had “deployed a visible and growing presence around Jewish houses of worship on the streets in communities like Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Boro Park.”

New York had already boosted the police presence outside of Jewish sites following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents over the course of the Hanukkah holiday, including several assaults and an incident in which a man entered the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters located at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and threatened to shoot up the place.

Members of the Jewish community gather outside the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, in New York on December 29, 2019, after a machete attack that took place the night before inside the rabbi’s home during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

Earlier this month, a gunman with ties to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, who had minutes earlier shot and killed a police officer, entered a kosher grocery shop in Jersey City, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, and killed three people, including two Hasidic Jews.

Authorities said he was motivated by a hatred of Jews and law enforcement.

Anti-Semitic incidents in New York have increased significantly this year, according to data from the New York Police Department. Through September, there were 163 reported incidents, up from 108 over the same period last year — an increase of 50 percent. Anti-Semitic incidents make up a majority of reported hate crimes in New York City.

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