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March 1, 2024

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Illinois man pleads not guilty to hate crime and murder charges in attack on Muslim mother and son

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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — A man accused of murder, attempted murder and a hate crime in an attack on a Palestinian American woman and her young son pleaded not guilty Monday following his indictmen t by an Illinois grand jury.

Joseph Czuba, 71, is charged in the fatal stabbing of six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and the wounding of Hanaan Shahin on Oct. 14. Authorities said the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith.

Shahin told police that Czuba, her landlord in Plainfield in Will County, was upset over the Israel-Hamas war and attacked them after she had urged him to “pray for peace.”

Czuba appeared in court Monday wearing a red jail uniform, socks and slippers.

His attorney George Lenard entered the not guilty plea. Czuba did not speak, looking down at the podium as he stood before the judge in the court in Joliet, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.

Lenard declined to comment to reporters after hearing.

Shahin, 32, is recovering from multiple stab wounds. Hundreds of people attended her son’s funeral on Oct. 16.

The murder charge in the indictment against Czuba describes the boy’s death as the result of “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior.”

Shahin asked the public to “pray for peace” and said her son was her best friend in a statement issued last week through the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The stabbings were part of rising hostility against Muslim and Jewish communities in the U.S. since Hamas attacked Israel.

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