New York’s governor has warned that a stabbing in a rabbi’s home that left five people injured was evidence of a “cancer in the body politic”.
Police arrested a suspect in Manhattan within hours of Saturday night’s attack in Monsey.
Grafton Thomas, 37, had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach, according to prosecutors. He appeared in court on Sunday morning and pleaded not guilty.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said the attack was fuelled by intolerance and called it an act of domestic terrorism.
The Saturday night stabbings north of New York City on the seventh night of Hanukkah come on the heels of a string of attacks targeting Jews in the region, including a massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey earlier this month.
The rabbi’s home is in Monsey, a town in Rockland County not far from the New Jersey state line and one of several in the Hudson Valley that has seen an influx of Hasidic Jews in recent years.
One person was very seriously wounded, the governor told reporters, and remained in a critical condition. The rabbi’s son was also injured but his condition and that of the other victims was not clear.
Authorities have not provided a motive for the attack, but Mr Cuomo said there was no doubt it was fuelled by hate.
“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.”
He added: “It is an American cancer on the body politic.”
He said he thought the crime was an act of domestic terrorism and expected it to be prosecuted that way.
Police said the stabbings happened at around 10pm. A witness saw the suspect fleeing in a car and alerted police to the licence plate number, Brad Weidel, the local police chief said.
That allowed police to find his vehicle as he entered New York City, where police apprehended him. “It was critical to the case,” Mr Weidel said.
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 during a Hanukkah celebration.
The large home on Forshay Road remained cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape early on Sunday. According to public records, the home belongs to Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, who leads the adjacent synagogue.
Aron Kohn told The New York Times he was inside the residence during the stabbings.
“I was praying for my life,” said Mr 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, as well as from Israel’s president and prime minister.
“Israel unequivocally condemns the recent expressions of antisemitism and the vicious attack in the middle of Hanukkah on the rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities in order to defeat this phenomenon. We offer our help to each and every state.”
Mr Cuomo, who called the stabbings a “cowardly act,” directed the New York State Police hate crimes task force to investigate.
“Let me be clear: antisemitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values of inclusion and diversity and we have absolutely zero tolerance for such acts of hate,” 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.”
Jewish communities in the New York City metropolitan area have been left shaken following a deadly December 10 shooting rampage at a Jersey City kosher market. Six people – three people who had been inside the store, a police officer and the two killers – died in the gun battle and stand-off that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has said was “fuelled” by hatred of Jews and law enforcement.
Last month, a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue in the same town that was the site of Saturday night’s attack.