Mourners in the United States have gathered to honour Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old boy stabbed to death by a man police say targeted him and his mother because they were Muslim and Palestinian Americans.
The funeral took place on Monday at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, a community southwest of Chicago with a large Palestinian population. The suspected attacker, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, has been charged with murder and hate crimes.
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“This is a heavy day. It is a worst nightmare come true. It is something we’ve tried to warn against,” Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said on Monday. “It pains me that the sacrificial lamb to this atmosphere was this beautiful young six-year-old boy.”
Hanaan Shahin, the boy’s mother, was attacked by Czuba after she said they should “pray for peace” as Israel and Palestine are engulfed in the most dire fighting in decades.
Czuba then attacked her with a knife and when she tried to escape by running into the bathroom, he found Wadea and stabbed him 26 times, killing him. Shahin, 32, suffered multiple wounds but is expected to survive.
“We are not animals, we are humans,” said the boy’s uncle, Yousef Hannon. “We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans.”
A group of attendees chanted, “Free Palestine”.
Muslim groups have sought to raise alarm over the last two weeks as a war between Israel and the armed Palestinian group Hamas escalates and brings with it an outpouring of dehumanising rhetoric on social media, some of which depicts Palestinians as violent and uncivilised.
“He was a lovely boy. Loved his family, friends. He loved soccer, basketball,” CAIR’s Rehab told reporters on Sunday. “He paid the price for the atmosphere of hate.”
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would open a federal hate-crime investigation into the attack.
“This incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence,” the statement said.
Jewish groups have also expressed concern that anger at events unfolding in the Middle East could result in them being targeted at home.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies