An imam has been stabbed early as he led congregants in prayer at a mosque in Paterson, New Jersey. Congregants subdued the alleged attacker, identified as Serif Zorba.
Imam Sayed Elnakib, 65, was stabbed at least twice as he knelt during a prayer service around 5:30 a.m., an Omar Mosque spokesman said. Surveillance video captured the attack, allegedly showing the 32-year-old Zorba among the congregants suddenly make his way to the front of the room in the middle of a prayer to stab the imam.
Congregants held the suspect until police officers arrived, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes said. Zorba was taken into custody on charges of attempted murder in the first degree, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose in the third degree and unlawful possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.
Zorba pleaded not guilty during a virtual court appearance on Monday, CBS New York reported. He is due back in court Thursday, according to CBS New York.
Elnakib’s wounds were considered serious, but not life-threatening, officials said. Patterson Mayor André Sayegh said he visited the imam in the hospital and, during a Sunday press conference, said there would be increased police presence at Paterson mosques throughout Ramadan. Sayegh also said he is hopeful Elnakib would be released from the hospital sometime this week, CBS New York reported.
“You should not be afraid to pray,” he said. “You should feel safe to pray anywhere in the city of Paterson.”
Officials have not yet shared any motive behind the attack.
“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,” mosque spokesperson Abdul Hamdan said, according to CBS New York.
Councilman Al Abdel-aziz wrote on Facebook, “While it is unclear what motivated the attacker, there is no justification for violence of any kind, especially in a sacred space.”