Turkish Man Accused of Attacking NJ Imam Pleads Not Guilty

By A Correspondent
The attack happened while the Imam was leading the Fajr prayers on April 9. (Photo courtesy APP)
Serif Zorba, the 32-year-old man of Turkish origin, accused of stabbing an imam inside a mosque in Paterson, New Jersey on April 9, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and unlawful possession of a weapon charge.

Zorba appeared virtually one day after shocking surveillance video allegedly caught him walking forward to stab Imam Sayed Elnakib, 65, during prayer at Omar Mosque. He was accused of first-degree attempted murder, third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, according to the prosecution.

Zorba has been characterized by locals as someone who preferred to sit alone and in solitude. To ensure that worshippers wouldn’t be afraid to pray, the city declared that it would increase police activity in and around mosques.

Security has been stepped up at the mosque and roughly a dozen other mosques in Paterson, which Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said has the largest Muslim population in New Jersey.

Imam Elnakib sustained at least two stab wounds to his lungs when he was attacked while leading Fajr prayers. According to reports, around 200 people were praying at the mosque located on Getty Avenue in South Paterson when the attack happened just before 6 a.m.

Elnakib remains hospitalized. Omar Mosque leadership said they believe the attack was an isolated incident, but it is being investigated by the FBI.

“He was surrounded by his wife and three boys and his condition is improving,” said Abdul Haman, a spokesperson for the mosque.

Paterson 6th Ward Councilman Al Abdel-Aziz said in a statement on Sunday, “While it is unclear what motivated the attacker, there is no justification for violence of any kind, especially in a sacred space. As a community, it is important that we come together to support one another and denounce all forms of hate and violence. I am confident that with love, understanding, and respect, our entire community will come out of this stronger than ever.”

The attack on Imam Elnakib received widespread condemnation. Senator Cory Booker, a long-time friend of the state’s Muslim community was among those who deplored the attack.

Zorba told police he came from Istanbul but was unable to provide his Paterson address, instead naming a grocery store nearby. He first rejected, then accepted, representation from a public defender.

Even though it is not clear what exactly was the motive of the attack but NJ.com said in a report that it was a religiously-motivated attack. Immediately after his arrest, Zorba told police “he planned the attack the night prior at his home on his own due to his disagreeing with the mosque and its leader collecting money in the name of Islam,” an officer wrote.

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