Feds charge Hanukkah stabbing suspect with hate crimes

Prosecutors on Monday filed federal hate crime charges against the 37-year-old man accused of storming a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York, with a machete and wounding five people.

Grafton Thomas, of Greenwood Lake, pleaded not guilty Sunday to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. On Monday, he was charged in the Southern District of New York with five counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and resulting in bodily injury.

Thomas is accused of attacking the group observing the seventh night of Hanukkah Saturday at the home of Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg, next to their synagogue. Monsey is an enclave of ultra-Orthodox Jews about 35 miles from New York City.

When Thomas barged into the rabbi's home, his face was covered with what appeared to be a scarf, according to the criminal complaint. He told the dozens gathered in the home that "no one is leaving."

Thomas was arrested in Harlem about two hours after the 10 p.m. attack.

Authorities later discovered handwritten journals in Thomas’ home that contained anti-Semitic writings. On one page, he had drawn a Star of David and a Swastika, and written about "Nazi culture" and "Adolf Hitler," according to a federal criminal complaint filed Monday.

Thomas wrote in the same journal an apparent reference to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

Investigators also searched Thomas' phone, where he had allegedly searched "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" once in November and three times this month. He also in November and December searched for German Jewish temples and Zionist temples "near me" or in specific nearby cities and towns.

And on the day of the attack, he clicked on an online article titled: "New York city increased police presence in jewish neighborhoods after possible anti-semitic attacks. Here’s what to know."

The victims were hospitalized with wounds including a severed finger, slash wounds and deep lacerations, prosecutors said. At least one of the victims, who suffered a skull fracture, is in serious condition.

Thomas' family said in a statement Sunday night that Thomas has "a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations" and that his attorney, Michael H. Sussman, had been instructed to seek "immediate mental health evaluation of Grafton."

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

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