'Devastating': Family friend mourns Palestinian American boy murdered in Chicago

Wadea Al Fayoume was killed in what police have called an Islamophobic attack sparked by the Israel-Gaza war

Funeral held for Muslim boy stabbed to death in Chicago

Funeral held for Muslim boy stabbed to death in Chicago
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Wadea Al Fayoume, a Palestinian American boy, was a happy child who loved going to school and playing football.

The six-year-old's life ended on Saturday when a man fatally stabbed him and wounded his mother with a military-style knife in their Chicago home.

Wadea died at the scene. His mother, Hanaan Shaheen, 32, is in hospital in critical condition.

Police said the alleged killer, their landlord Joseph Czuba, attacked the family because they are Muslim, and in response to the Israel-Gaza war.

“This came out of nowhere, nobody saw it coming,” Yousef Hannon, a close family friend and a former schoolteacher, who Wadea affectionately referred to as his uncle, told The National.

“It's very, very, very devastating. As Palestinians, we feel very unsafe right now."

Dozens of Palestinian and Arab Americans took part in Wadea's funeral's on Monday at a mosque in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.

Those attending, many of them wearing Palestinian keffiyehs, held solemn noon prayers before going to the cemetery where a burial ceremony was held.

"The events in Gaza have affected the world, it's not just between two countries," Odey Al Fayoume, Wadea's father, said at a media conference before the funeral. "My son is a martyr."

Mr Al Fayoume said he hoped his son's death could help the conflict to be resolved.

According to the sheriff’s office, Mr Czuba, 71, has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Police said Wadea was stabbed 26 times while his mother was stabbed 12 times with a serrated knife. Mr Czuba was due to appear in court on Monday.

“Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the continuing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis,” the Will County Sheriff's Office said.

The killing comes amid rising Islamophobic and anti-Arab sentiment being felt across the US. Jewish people have also reported an increase in hateful rhetoric since the war began.

Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip since October 7, when Hamas gunmen attacked parts of southern Israel, killing about 1,400 people and taking about 200 others hostage.

More than 2,750 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes.

The conflict is expected to escalate further as Israel prepares for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, drawing concerns of a humanitarian crisis in the enclave and a widening conflict in the region.

Major US cities, including Chicago – home to the largest Palestinian community in the country – have been on high alert, with police saying they would increase patrols, especially around synagogues, mosques and other areas frequented by Muslims and Jews.

Arab-American groups say they have been receiving rising reports of Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks and harassment.

"This heinous crime did not take place in a vacuum," Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine, said in a media conference on Monday.

"Over the past 10 days, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslim Americans have been subjected to a hateful, hostile campaign."

US President Joe Biden said he was “shocked and sickened” to learn of the attack.

“The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek – a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace,” he said.

“This horrific act of hate has no place in America.”

Mr Hannon said Mr Al Fayoume is the son of Palestinian refugees from Ramla in Israel, and had lived in Jordan.

Ms Shaheen is from Al Bireh, in the occupied West Bank. The couple have relatives in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.

“They came to the US 12 years ago seeking a better life,” Mr Hannon said. “They were establishing a foot here, and they lived a simple, happy life.”

He said the parents had just applied for a passport for their son to travel to the West Bank and Jordan so he could meet his grandparents and relatives for the first time.

“We have been described as animals, savages and terrorists – but we are none of those things,” Mr Hannon said.

“We are here as citizens and we are adding to the society.

“We feel like we have been left behind and that we don't belong anywhere any more.”

Updated: October 17, 2023, 8:30 AM