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Hanukkah stabbing suspect not part of hate group, has mental illness: Family

(ABC) Federal prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against the 38-year-old man suspected of stabbing five people with a machete at a Hanukkah celebration in a New York City suburb on Saturday night.

The family of suspect Grafton Thomas has denounced the crime and said he has mental health problems and no ties to any hate groups.

"Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations," the family said in a statement issued Sunday night. "He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime. He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups."

Thomas was arraigned on Sunday and charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary, police said. He pleaded not guilty and is being held on $5 million bond at the Rockland County Jail.

In Monsey, New York, Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg was hosting a ceremony to light the candle on the seventh night of Hanukkah when Thomas allegedly ran into the home, swinging a knife.

There were about 100 people at the rabbi's home, which is attached to the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish congregation's synagogue.

The five victims injured in the attack were being treated at area hospitals, including one man who is in critical condition with a skull fracture, officials said. Among those injured was the rabbi's son.

Josef Gluck, manager of the synagogue, said he was sitting in the dining room with 40 to 50 people when the intruder barged in wearing a hoodie and a scarf covering all of his face except for his eyes. He said the suspect started hacking people in the dining room, before continuing the attack in the kitchen.

"He was just swinging his sword, knife -- I don't know what it was -- back and forth hitting people. He didn't say anything," Gluck said.

(MORE: NYPD investigating rash of possible anti-Semitic attacks in last 2 weeks)

Aron Kohn, one of those attending the ceremony, said he answered the front door of the rabbi's house to find the suspect standing there.

"I asked, 'Who is coming in, in the middle of the night, with an umbrella?'" said Kohn. "While I was saying that ... right away, boom, he pulled out the knife from the holder, from the case, and I'm throwing tables and chairs, that he should get out of here."

Kohn said the man ran past him, into a large room, where he attacked those inside.

Police said Thomas was arrested in Harlem covered in blood after driving away from the scene.

A witness had given authorities the suspect's license plate number, so when license plate readers indicated the 2015 grey Nissan Sentra was in Harlem, officers searched block by block until Thomas was located.

This surveillance video screengrab handout released by The official Twitter account of Dermot Shea, Police Commissioner of the City of New York on Dec. 30, 2019, shows NYPD officers taking the suspect in Hanukkah celebration stabbings into custody. Police Commissioner of the City of New York/AFP via Getty Images

Thomas' family said in its statement, "we believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness."

The family also extended sympathies to those injured, saying, "[W]e express our deepest concern and prayers for those injured physically and otherwise deeply affected by the events of Saturday night and our family’s earnest yearning for their well being. We thank those who rendered medical attention to each of those injured."

The motive for the attack still remains unclear, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred to it as "an act of domestic terrorism." The stabbings, just north of New York City, came at the end of two weeks of increased anti-Semitic attacks in the city. The NYPD was investigating nine attacks against Jewish individuals prior to the stabbings. It is not clear if any are related.

Around-the-clock armed security is being implemented in Rockland County for an undetermined amount of time to give peace of mind to the Jewish community, county officials announced Monday.

"We are fighting back as a community," Patrick Brosnan, CEO of Brosnan Risk Consultants, which is leading the armed patrol, told reporters.

Brosnan said he raised his family in Rockland County and lives about eight minutes from the scene of the crime, which he called a "disgusting, reprehensible" act.

"We cannot sit around and do nothing," he said. "We are taking proactive action."

Thomas is next scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 3.

ABC News' Bill Hutchinson, Stephanie Ramos, Josh Margolin and Matt Foster contributed to this report.v

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