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Funeral-goers mourn the death of a 6-year-old boy killed in an anti-Muslim stabbing

Community members pray during a funeral service for 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume at the Mosque Foundation on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Bridgeview, Ill.
Kamil Krzaczynski
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Community members pray during a funeral service for 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume at the Mosque Foundation on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Bridgeview, Ill.

Mourners gathered outside Chicago on Monday for the funeral of Wadea Al-Fayoume, the 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy who was stabbed to death in his home late last week in an apparent anti-Muslim hate crime.

Authorities say the family's landlord Joseph M. Czuba, 71, attacked Wadea and his mother because they were Muslim. Illinois prosecutors have charged Czuba with hate crimes and other offenses.

Wadea's mother, 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, was seriously wounded in the Saturday morning attack in unincorporated Plainfield Township but is expected to survive.

A prayer service was held at a Bridgeview, Ill., mosque Monday afternoon, drawing dozens of mourners, some of whom waved Palestinian flags, WBEZ's Anna Savchenko reported.

Muslim faith leaders who addressed the crowd decried what they considered the biased news coverage of the Israel-Hamas war, Savchenko noted, and condemned the stabbing as an assault on all Muslims.

"When this individual said, 'You Muslims must die,' this was a message not to the boy and the mother," Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a news conference. "This was to all of us. We were all stabbed that day."

Rehab also said Wadea's parents hadn't suspected before the attack that Czuba would become violent.

"The father says that [Czuba] had built a treehouse for the boy and allowed him to swim in a makeshift pool and brought him toys, but it wasn't until he started watching the news and hearing the statements that something changed," Rehab added.

The stabbing came one week into the bloody war between Israel and Hamas, with U.S. officials warning that the conflict thousands of miles away could lead to increased threats against Jews and Muslims at home.

Wadea's killing drew widespread condemnation from elected officials, from President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who attended the funeral.

"As governor of Illinois, I condemn bigotry and violence. I won't be silent in the face of this evil in any form," Pritzker said.

The suspect makes his first appearance in court

Also on Monday, Czuba made his first appearance in Will County court, where he was read the eight felony counts he faces, including murder, aggravated battery and hate crimes charges.

A judge ordered that Czuba remain behind bars. His next court appearance is a preliminary hearing scheduled for Oct. 30.

Neither the Will County state's attorney nor the Will County public defender's office responded to NPR's request for comment.

Prosecutors at the hearing said Czuba had been listening to news about the war between Israel and Hamas on conservative talk radio and grew increasingly worried about his safety, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Czuba's wife reportedly told investigators that her husband believed Shahin was "going to call Palestinian friends to come and harm them," the outlet reported.

The Justice Department has also opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the attack.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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