65-year-old Imam Sayed Elnakib was stabbed twice on Sunday, April 9th during the early morning prayer in Omar Mosque in Paterson, New Jersey. The stabbing was carried out by 32-year-old Serif Zorba around 5:20 am as Imam Elnakib led the mosque in prayer. Zorba, who was wearing a hoodie, got up, skipped rows of people praying, and stabbed the imam. Zerbi made an attempt to escape but was held by congregants until the arrival of the police. The entire incident was caught on camera. Imam Elnakib suffered serious injuries but was hospitalized and will reportedly survive the attack.
According to CNN, Zorba is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. During his appearance in Paterson Municipal Court on Monday, April 10th, court officials had to use a Turkish translator to communicate with him. He was charged with first-degree attempted murder, third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon.
Represented by a public defender, Zorba pled not guilty to all the charges. During his court appearance, Zorba said he lived in Paterson but did not give an exact address. At the time of writing, the motive for the crime is not known.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh announced on Sunday, April 9th that the mosques in the town would see an increased police presence through the duration of Ramadan. He called for people to be allowed the freedom to express their religious beliefs. “You should not be afraid to pray,” he said. “You should feel safe to pray anywhere in the city of Paterson.”
“We expect that once the investigation is concluded that this will be an isolated incident. However, we have heightened our security in the mosque, along with Paterson police and Passaic County Sheriff’s Department,” said mosque spokesperson Abdul Hamdan.
According to NPR, the incident took place a few days after the word Allah was defaced at Dr. Hani Awadallah public school in Paterson. The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for an investigation into the incident as a hate crime. According to the organization, in 2022, 152 complaints regarding anti-Muslim discrimination were made.