Rabbi stabbing accused referenced Hitler: US prosecutors

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This surveillance video screen grab shows police officers taking into custody the suspect in the Hanukkah stabbings

This surveillance video screen grab shows police officers taking into custody the suspect in the Hanukkah stabbings (AFP Photo/Handout)

New York (AFP) - US authorities laid federal hate crimes charges Monday against a man who allegedly referenced Adolf Hitler in his diaries and stabbed five people at a rabbi's house.

Grafton Thomas, 37, had expressed anti-Semitic views, referred to "Nazi culture" and drew swastikas in handwritten journals, according to a criminal complaint filed with a United States court.

Signed by an FBI agent, the complaint said that around December 28, the day of the attack, the internet browser of the accused's phone was also used to access an article titled: "New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here's What To Know."

The complaint was filed on the same day that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an interview with NPR radio that America was suffering from a "crisis" of anti-Semitism.

"There is a growing anti-Semitism problem in this whole country. It has taken a more and more violent form," he said, adding that the "forces of hate have been unleashed."

"Some of that has to do with the reality of Washington," he said. "Some of it has to do with social media."

The mayor announced a series of measures to tackle the problem, including an intensified police presence in Jewish communities of New York, additional security cameras and multi-ethnic community safety patrols.

"We have made it a habit when the Jewish community is attacked anywhere in the world to reinforce key Jewish community locations in New York City," he said. "But we're doing it now on a much bigger scale, particularly in Brooklyn, where the most important vulnerabilities are."

Thomas appeared in a New York court on Sunday charged with five counts of attempted murder after the stabbing spree during Hanukkah celebrations at Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg's suburban house, which he entered in Rockland County.

Rockland has the largest Jewish population per capita of any US county, with 31.4 percent, or 90,000 Jewish residents.

- Mental illness -

Still covered in blood, Thomas was reportedly arrested in his car about 30 miles (50 kilometers) away, two hours after the attack.

The New York Times quoted Taleea Collins, a friend of the suspect, and his pastor Wendy Paige, as saying Thomas struggles with mental illness.

Monday's criminal complaint says that Thomas typed "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" into an internet browser on his mobile phone four times between November 9 and December 16.

He also searched for "Zionist Temples" in the New York area, according to the complaint, which was first reported by The New York Times.

Last year, a white supremacist shot dead 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue -- the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the United States.

Earlier this month, six people, including the two attackers, were killed in a shooting at a kosher deli in Jersey City, New Jersey, which authorities said was fueled in part by anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League reported in April that the number of anti-Semitic attacks in 2018 was close to the record of 2017, with 1,879 incidents.

President Donald Trump tweeted that Americans "must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism."