CHICAGO: The imam of a New Jersey Mosque was seriously injured during a knife attack early on Sunday morning by a suspect who joined some 200 worshippers for Fajr prayers.
Paterson, New Jersey prosecutors said that the victim, Imam Sayed Elnakib, 65, of the Omar mosque, 501 Getty Avenue, was attacked by a suspect who had knelt with other worshippers during the prayers in the mosque. Imam Elnakib was immediately taken to Saint Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson for treatment of “non-fatal” injuries.
The prosecutor’s office said that the suspect was immediately restrained at the mosque. He was identified as 32-year-old Serif Zorba. Worshippers said that Zorba had been to the mosque many times but was not a member of it.
Zorba rushed at Imam Elnakib while he was leading the prayers at about 5:37 a.m. After stabbing Imam Elnakib several times, Zorba turned to escape by running through worshippers who police said immediately subdued and held him until police arrived.
“Upon arrival, police officers encountered a 32-year-old suspect inside of the mosque who was subdued by congregants,” said Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes.
“Mr. Zorba is charged with attempted murder, first degree; possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, third degree; and unlawful possession of a weapon, fourth degree.”]
Valdes said that if convicted, Zorba could face up to 20 years in prison. “The sentencing exposure for Serif Zorba on first degree attempted murder is 10 to 20 years at a New Jersey state prison with 85 percent of the term to be served before parole eligibility, pursuant to the ‘no early release act’ and five years of parole supervision upon release.”
The charges for unlawful possession of a weapon could add an additional six years to the sentence, the prosecutor’s office said.
Zorba appeared at Central Judicial Processing Court in Paterson on Monday afternoon where the charges were formally filed and “pretrial detention” was granted, denying the suspect bail release.
The hearing was held before the New Jersey superior court judge.
Imam Elnakib is married and the father of three boys. He is expected to make a full recovery, police said.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, who is Muslim and Arab American, visited Imam Elnakib at the hospital on Monday morning, city officials said.
Sayegh told reporters at a press conference that he would assign additional police to all the mosques in the region to ensure people’s safety in the remaining days of Ramadan.
“You should not be afraid to pray, you should feel safe to pray,” Sayegh said.
Paterson Council member, Al Abdel-aziz, joined worshippers at the mosque on Sunday night to pray for the imam’s health and full recovery.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the stabbing incident that took place during prayer at Omar’s mosque earlier this morning, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragic event,” councilman Abdel-aziz wrote on his Facebook page.
“While it is unclear what motivated the attacker, there is no justification for violence of any kind, especially in a sacred space.
I am relieved to hear that Imam Sayed Elnakib is in stable condition, and wish him a full and speedy recovery. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time.”
Councilman Al-Abdel-aziz added: “As a community, it is important that we come together to support one another and denounce all forms of hate and violence. I encourage everyone to reach out to each other for comfort and support, and to work toward creating a safe and welcoming environment for all who enter your mosque.”
Nearly one third of the 158,000 residents of the city of Paterson, New Jersey are Muslim and Arab, officials said.