US: New Jersey imam stabbed in mosque while leading prayer
An imam at a New Jersey mosque was stabbed while leading the fajr (morning) prayer over the weekend, according to local authorities and community members.
The incident took place on Sunday morning at the Omar Mosque in Paterson, New Jersey, around 5:30 am local time.
When Imam Sayed Elnakib and the rest of the congregation, which included about 200 people, were kneeling for prayer, a man lunged forward with a knife, stabbed him from behind and then attempted to escape.
The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office identified the man as 32-year-old Serif Zorba. He was arrested and charged with first-degree, attempted murder. Authorities have yet to establish a motivation for the attack and the spokesperson of the mosque, Abdul Hamdan, believes it was an isolated incident.
According to videos from the mosque, congregants were able to bring Zorba down and hold him until the police arrived. The imam was taken to hospital and is in stable condition
Congregants say Zorba has been seen at the mosque before for worship but was still unknown to congregants and was not an active member.
“Nobody really knew him,” a congregant told the New York Times. “We don’t know what the motive behind his action is.”
'He would come in and kind of sit isolated away from everyone else and didn’t really communicate with anyone'
- congregant on attacker
“He would come in and kind of sit isolated away from everyone else and didn’t really communicate with anyone,” he continued. “We’re extremely baffled and confused about why he would do such a thing.”
Andre Sayegh, the mayor of Paterson, announced after the incident that there will be extra police presence outside mosques in the city.
The attack took place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when mosques tend to see an uptick in attendance for the five daily prayers, as well as the Taraweeh night prayers.
“This is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar year and we want to make sure that the safety of those that are just coming to pray is a priority for us and that we take this situation very seriously,” he continued.
“We want to let anyone who is coming to worship know that they can do this in peace without any fear of being attacked.”
Paterson is the third most populous city in New Jersey and is home to over 20,000 Arabs, many of whom are of Palestinian descent.
Last year, Paterson City Council voted unanimously to rename a five-block area of Main Street to Palestine Way, in honour of the city's large Palestinian community and its contributions to business and civic life.
In a separate incident a day before, the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations called for a hate crime investigation after a sign at the Dr Hani Awadallah public school in Paterson was defaced and the word "Allah" in Awadallah's name was smeared and marked out.
“While the circumstances surrounding the incident remain unknown, the smearing of the word 'Allah' in Dr Awadallah’s name is apparently intentional, with the remainder of the sign left untouched, making an immediate hate crime investigation into this incident necessary," said Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey chapter.
Maksut added that in 2022, the organisation had seen "the highest number of complaints of anti-Muslim prejudices, at 152", and these types of complaints increased during Ramadan.