Funeral for slain Palestinian American boy to be held today

Funeral for slain Palestinian American boy to be held today
The funeral for a 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume who was stabbed to death for being a Palestinian American and Muslim is taken place on Monday.
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Tensions are running high among Arab minority communities in the US as the fighting intensifies in Gaza [Getty]

A funeral and burial for a 6-year-old American Muslim boy will take place on Monday in a Chicago suburb after he was stabbed to death over the weekend by a man who police say targeted him and his mother because they were Palestinian Americans.

Services for the boy, identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, are scheduled for 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, southwest of Chicago, according to a statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“This is a heavy day that we hoped would never come. As they say, the smallest coffins are the heaviest,” said Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago executive director, said in the statement.

The funeral will be held in a community known as "Little Palestine" for its heavy concentration of Palestinian Americans.

The killing comes against the backdrop of a fresh crisis in the Middle East after a deadly attack by Hamas fighters on Israeli civilians a week ago and subsequent retaliation by Israel on the Gaza Strip, which has killed 2,808 people. 

The conflict has put Jewish and Palestinian Muslim communities in the United States on edge and fearful of a potential backlash against them.

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Police said the 6-year-old and his mother - identified as 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin - were attacked by their landlord on Saturday in Plainfield Township, about 40 miles (64 km) southwest of Chicago. The boy was stabbed 26 times while his mother suffered multiple wounds. She was expected to survive.

Iman Negrete, a Palestinian American who lives in Plainfield, is from the same town in the occupied Palestinian territories as the mother. She wept as she stood next to a makeshift memorial made up of stuffed animals, saying she does not feel safe in the community because of her background.

"It's heartbreaking," she said, referring to the boy's death. "He was Muslim, that's what happened, he was Muslim and this is what they did, this is what this monster did."

The boy celebrated his sixth birthday just weeks ago, CAIR's Rehab told a press conference on Sunday.

"He was a lovely boy. Loved his family, friends. He loved soccer, basketball," he said. "He paid the price for the atmosphere of hate."

The boy's mother came from the West Bank to the United States 12 years ago and his father immigrated nine years ago, Rehab said.

Suspect charged

The suspect, Joseph Czuba, 71, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crime and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, the Will County Sheriff's Office said.

Before the stabbings, there were no known issues or conflicts between Czuba and the family, CAIR said.

The boy's father, Oday El-Fayoume, told The Daily Beast that Czuba had a "good relationship" with the boy's mother and son, having built a tree house for the small child outside the home they rented from him.

"He is an angel. Basically a small angel in the form of a person," El-Fayoume said of his son. "It is hard to picture this man holding a knife about to stab my son."

The boy's father received text messages from the child's mother while she was hospitalized, describing the attack and identifying the assailant, Rehab said.

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"He asked his wife ... what happened," Rehab said. "He knocked on the door and attempted to choke her and said, 'You Muslims must die' and stabbed her."

Attorney General Merrick Garland late on Sunday said the U.S. 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.

Reuters could not identify an attorney for Czuba. He was in the Will County jail awaiting his initial court appearance, the sheriff's office said.