Chicago police announce hate crime charges filed in weekend synagogue vandalism

Two synagogues in Chicago were vandalized over the weekend and someone is in custody, officials said, as American Jewish communities remain on edge over anti-Semitic incidents, including last month's hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue.

By Omar Jimenez and Bill Kirkos, CNN

(CNN) -- Felony hate crime charges have been filed against a man arrested in connection with a series of anti-Semitic vandalism incidents at synagogues and Jewish schools over the weekend, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown announced Tuesday.

Shahid Hussain, 39, faces four felony hate crime charges, two felony counts of defacement and two felony counts of criminal damage involving a school property after he allegedly spray painted swastikas on buildings over the weekend, Brown said at a news conference.

Hussain was ordered held on $250,000 bond on Tuesday afternoon, according to his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Suzin Farber. Farber declined to comment further.

The incident comes as US Jewish communities remain on edge over anti-Semitic incidents, including January's hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue.

On Sunday afternoon, police responded to a call about a man spray painting yellow swastikas at a nearby synagogue and on a Jewish high school. Later that evening, officers responded to a 911 call of a suspicious person yelling anti-Semitic slurs and threats, according to police.

Detectives said Hussain matched the description of the offender responsible for the previous damage to the properties when he was initially detained on Sunday afternoon. Brown said the investigation also revealed Hussain was responsible for criminal damage involving a separate synagogue and school in the overnight hours on Saturday and into Sunday.

"We will not tolerate hate," said Brown, appearing alongside leaders in the Jewish community and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. "The Chicago Police Department will always work side by side with every community to stop crime and stop hate."

Foxx said the case will be handled by the hate crimes specialist within the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Foxx said the suspect had been out on parole for a 2017 forgery case and a 2017 burglary case.


'We see a swastika on the building'


"We were packing food at our food bank for Russian seniors and Holocaust survivors, and as we walk outside, we see a swastika on the building," Rabbi Levi Notik of the F.R.E.E. Synagogue told CNN.

A young man was "jumped" around the same time the swastika was noticed Sunday, Notik said. He sustained minor injuries.

Another synagogue less than 2 miles away also was vandalized over the weekend, according to a woman who answered the phone at Yeshivas Meor Hatorah-Chicago.

"There was some vandalism, and the police are investigating," she told CNN, declining to comment further.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more of these incidents in the past couple of weeks," the American Jewish Committee's director for combating anti-Semitism, Holly Huffnagle, told CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday.

"Even in January, there were neo-Nazis waving flags in Florida, there were synagogues defaced in Chicago," she said. "Right here in Washington, DC, where I'm based, there are Nazi swastikas on Union Station. There have been Jewish children spat on in New York and just a couple weeks ago the horrific hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas. This is part of a larger picture the last few years here in America."

This weekend was not the first time F.R.E.E. synagogue has been attacked, Notik said.

"This building that we're in now, actually, we got it after our prior synagogue was burned to the ... ground in 1993 due to anti-Semitism," Notik said.

"We are going to stand strong," the rabbi added. "We'll get through this. We will overcome it together as a community, but we have to eradicate hate through love."

Attacks on Jewish people have been on the rise, the Anti-Defamation League warns. While the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involve harassment and vandalism, assaults have also happened, with at least six turning deadly since 2016, including at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

Hundreds of anti-Semitic flyers were distributed late last month to homes in South Florida, according to authorities. Similar flyers were distributed in five other states -- Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas, California, and Maryland -- according to the Anti-Defamation League.

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