A Dearborn man has been charged with two counts of ethnic intimidation in what officials said was an antisemitic attack at a historic synagogue and preschool for Jewish students in Bloomfield Township.
Hassan Yehia Chokr, 35, was arrested by police after antisemitic and racist threats were made Friday against children, adults and security personnel outside Temple Beth El, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said. He made remarks that were both anti-Jewish and anti-Black, said the temple's leader.
"Anti-semitic and racist threats or ethnic intimidation of any kind, will not be tolerated in our community, and every such incident will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Sunday in a statement.
Chokr was taken into custody by Dearborn police, according to a news release from the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office; a Bloomfield Township officer confirmed that happened Saturday morning.
"He remains in custody pending arraignment on the Ethnic Intimidation charges," prosecutors said. He will be arraigned at 48th District Court in Bloomfield Hills, the office said. It's unclear when he will be arraigned, the office said. The prosecutor's office said the Dearborn Police Department has "ensured that this defendant will remain in custody until he is arraigned."
Bloomfield Township Officer Nick Soley told the Free Press: "The subject was taken into custody on Saturday morning for a separate incident by the Dearborn Police Department. Today he was transferred to our custody and arrested on the two count warrant issued by Prosecutor McDonald."
In a news release Sunday, Bloomfield Township police said the department "continues to work in conjunction with local, state, and federal partners and the investigation is ongoing."
"We stand with the Jewish community in deploring this incident and behavior, and in any such situation we will seek to hold anyone accountable to the fullest extent of the law," Bloomfield Township police added in its statement.
Chokr was driving in a white fan screaming expletives and derogatory remarks against Jewish people, according to the group StopAntisemitism, based in New York City. The group that combats antisemitism had posted a tweet and photo of the incident that was retweeted hundreds of times. On Sunday, the group said the suspect had visited another synagogue and noted he was making violent threats on his Instagram page.
The temple that was targeted is the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan, founded in the 19th century in Detroit, historians said.
"Our office created Oakland County's first Hate Crimes Unit a little over a year ago to give us the resources needed to call out, investigate and prosecute these serious crimes," McDonald said.
The people who were threatened Friday are Jewish, said community advocates. Prosecutors and police didn't identify the race or religion of the suspect; his name indicates he's of Arab descent. This would be the first incident in recent memory involving a violent threat made in person between the Arab American and Jewish communities in metro Detroit, said advocates.
A review of what Jewish leaders said was the suspect's Instagram account shows that he has made violent and explicit remarks about committing sexual assaults and attacks against Jewish people. In an Instagram post with an antisemitic title, a man also mocks concerns about Jewish children being targeted and referenced the tweet by StopAntisemitism about the Friday incident. The man refers to himself as "freedomfighterhassan" in his Instagram name.
Some Jewish advocates have raised concerns that Bloomfield Township police officers who responded to the incident Friday did not take him into custody and seemed to act in a friendly demeanor toward Chokr.
Adar Rubin, with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee, posted a video on Twitter that showed an officer telling Chokr: "Do us a favor and don't go back." Chokr then said: "I won't. ... God bless you boys. ... Get the real bad guys."
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Asked about the behavior of the officers at the scene shown on the video, Lt. Jason Murphy of the Bloomfield Township police told the Free Press: "There are some concerns about that."
Murphy also provided a news release from Bloomfield Township police that sought to explain the officers' actions.
"We are aware of the social media posts and videos of this traffic stop that are circulating," the police department said in the release. "Our officers accomplished the goal of identifying the subject while using de-escalation techniques to diffuse the subject. We are unable to comment on specific investigative techniques, but we were able to assess that subsequent to the traffic stop the subject would not be an imminent threat to the community."
Here's what happened on Friday morning at the synagogue according to police, prosecutors and Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El.
"At 8:57am on Friday morning we received a call from the security director at Temple Beth El," said a news release from Bloomfield Township police. "While still on the 911 call, Bloomfield Township officers were able to locate the subject and conduct a traffic stop. Additional Township officers arrived on scene of Temple Beth El and began collecting initial witness statements. The subject was positively identified."
Miller told the Free Press: "The man showed up in our parking lot on Friday morning while parents were starting to bring young children into our ECC (Early Childhood Center) program. He was hostile and verbally abusive, shouting profanity about "F Israel" and "F the Jews" - and threatening people, yelling at them that if they support Israel, they will pay or he will get them.'
At another point, "he also repeated shouted the N-word at some of our staff when they engaged him to leave," Miller said. Miller said he didn't clearly hear all of the remarks the suspect allegedly made but spoke with people at his temple who did.
After making a traffic stop, Bloomfield Township police "worked around the clock in cooperation with local and regional partners to continue the investigation," the department said. "Based on evidence that was discovered along with additional information provided by the Dearborn Police Department, the subject was taken into custody ... and a search warrant executed on his residence."
"Based on evidence that was discovered several hours after the initial stop of the subject," police then presented their findings to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office.
Miller said the attack comes at a time of growing concern about antisemitism, with some entertainers such as rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, making anti-Jewish comments and an antisemitic commentator meeting with former President Donald Trump last month.
"It should be so disturbing to all of us the way hatred and antisemitism are not only increasing, but becoming more acceptable in the public sphere," Miller said. He said the temple has increased its "security presence right now in response to this scary incident."
Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, said Sunday: "This is the exact type of concern the Jewish community has been on guard about since Kanye and others began spewing their vitriol. A deranged antisemite who has an obsession with Jews and Israel had the audacity to harass Jewish families taking their babies to day care about a political situation happening halfway around the world."
The group also thanked police in metro Detroit "for arresting Hassan Chokr and giving this situation the serious attention it deserves."
Oakland County Executive David Coulter said in a post on Twitter Sunday afternoon about the incident: "Hate can never be normalized. Leaders and all decent people have a duty to call it out and condemn it. ... We'll #ShineALight on antisemitism and hate wherever it hides."
Contact Niraj Warikoo:email@example.com or Twitter @nwarikoo
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Dearborn man charged in anti-Semitic attack at synagogue in Michigan