A Jewish man has allegedly been violently attacked by a man carrying what appeared to be a knife in an antisemitic attack in West Hampstead, north London. The alleged assailant fled the scene and is being sought by the Metropolitan Police Service.
Police have today released a CCTV image of a man they need to speak with. The photograph that has been released may not be of the suspect.
Following the attack, police faced criticism for their initial slow response to the attack, which they had said would take an hour to respond to, however the police investigation has been upgraded following intervention by CST.
The incident took place on 2nd December at around 19:20, when the victim was returning from work. He exited West Hampstead Underground Station and walked to the nearby Marks and Spencer supermarket located in West Hampstead Square.
He saw the alleged attacker desecrating a 4-metre high public Chanukiah that was erected on West Hampstead Square to celebrate the Jewish festival of Chanukah, pulling the object down before proceeding to stamp on in and shout antisemitic abuse.
With no prior interaction, the attacker approached the victim and aggressively said: “You look Jewish” and that he was “looking for a Jew to kill” after singling out the victim among other pedestrians, despite there being no visible indication of his Jewish background.
He allegedly asked threateningly: “Are you Jewish?” The victim, understandably wishing to avoid a confrontation, said “No,” to which the man replied: “Good, I want to find a Jew to kill.”
The victim entered a nearby Marks and Spencer supermarket and the man remained outside. The victim was worried for the safety of other Jews and their families in the neighbourhood where the man was loitering, which has a sizeable Jewish population. The victim approached a supermarket employee, who said that the man had been in the store earlier.
The victim decided to call the police, explaining the situation to them over the course of about eight minutes.
Officers told the victim that they did not consider the case urgent enough for a priority response and would come within an hour, despite the attacker threatening to kill Jews.
After a short period of time, the victim spotted the man again, outside the shop, pulling down the public Chanukiah which someone had put back up in the intervening time. The victim also said that the man was shouting aggressively at a young woman, aged 18-25 who fled the square. He then returned to pulling the Chanukiah to the ground.
Fearing for the young woman, the victim and the supermarket employee confronted the man from a ten-metre distance. The attacker allegedly shouted at him in response: “I knew you were Jewish, you lied to me” and began walking towards his victim while shouting: “You are Jewish. I am going to kill you.” He said something in Arabic before allegedly declaring: “I want to kill my first Jew.”
The victim ran back into Marks and Spencer and turned to see if the man had followed him, which he had, having put on a facemask in the meantime.
As the assailant walked into the shop, he shouted at the victim again: “You are Jewish.”
The man reached the victim, allegedly squaring up to him aggressively with barely a metre between them. Within seconds, the man allegedly pushed the victim as hard as he could with both hands on the victim’s chest, forcing the victim to take a step backwards, all the while repeating: “You are Jewish. I am going to kill you.”
The attacker then allegedly punched the victim violently with force towards the head around five times, the victim had to guard himself from the attacks using his forearms and elbows.
After the first attack, the victim again told the man to back away and pushed the attacker away. The attacker allegedly replied: “I am not leaving until you are dead.” Taking steps backwards with his coat and heavy bag restricting his movement, the victim found himself cornered at the edge of an aisle with nowhere else to move backwards to.
He turned his head around to see what was blocking him, at which point the attacker took advantage of the victim’s shift in concentration and allegedly threw a strong punch which connected with the victim’s head. The victim tried to move his head backwards in an attempt to limit the impact. Had he not done this, the victim believes that his injuries would have been even more severe and he would have been knocked unconscious onto the floor of the supermarket.
Again, the victim told the man to “back away” to which the attacker repeated “I am not going away until you are dead.”
By this point, the victim began to fear for his life. He had no inclination to fight the man and wanted to defuse the situation. He managed to extricate himself and head towards the self-service checkout machines, with the man following him and allegedly shouting more antisemitic abuse and death threats. He was also heard shouting in Arabic.
The victim dropped his bag and jacket to make it easier to run from the man, but the man kept walking faster and faster, eventually reaching for his right jacket pocket.
He grabbed what was apparently a knife and allegedly said “I will kill you now, you Jew.” The victim ran to the back of the shop before the man had the chance to reveal the weapon fully. He turned to see that the man remained by the checkout machines, still staring at the victim and allegedly performing a slit-throat gesture.
The man then allegedly picked up the victim’s jacket and bag and walked calmly out of the shop. The victim remained where he was, terrified for his life. He did not see the man thereafter. A staff member then approached the victim to tell him that the man had left. The victim called the police for a second time, as did the shop employee, and spoke to operators for an extended period. Another staff member then brought over the victim’s bag, which had been discarded, and he later found his jacket in the shop. None of the contents of the bag or jacket had been taken.
Finally, the police arrived. Despite the duration of the incident and the proximity of a police station only half a mile up the road.
The victim called the CST, which provided support to the victim and pressed the police to upgrade their investigation, which is now progressing. Police mounted extra patrols in the area in subsequent days and CST adapted its operations to take account of the incident.
The assailant is described as being black and possibly of Somali ethnicity, aged between 25 and 30 and between 6’0” and 6’1” in height. He had a slender build and bad teeth, and wore a dark green beanie hat, a dark puffer jacket with large pockets, dark trousers and no gloves. He wore a dark facemask when in the shop. He spoke in English, with a mixed East London and foreign accent, and spoke Arabic.
If you have any information, please contact the police on 101, quoting reference: CAD6588/02Dec, or e-mail [email protected] in confidence.
Stephen Silverman, Director of Investigations and Enforcement at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “What this victim has suffered is unspeakable, and it is only thanks to his quick thinking that he survived the ordeal without even worse injury than he endured. The delayed response of the police, despite the close proximity of a police station just up the road, is deeply concerning, and the result is that a man who apparently wants to kill Jews is now at liberty.
“This is the most heinous of a considerable number of antisemitic crimes that we have reported over the course of Chanukah. The sad truth is that our nation’s capital is not nearly as safe as it should be for Jewish people who wish to celebrate a festival or, in this case, simply go about their daily lives. Unless the police and the justice system step up and ensure that antisemitic criminals face the full consequences of their despicable actions, this will not change.
“We are providing the victim with legal and other assistance. We urge the public to assist in the identification of the individual whose description has now been circulated.”
The Metropolitan Police Service said: “Officers have carried out a number of enquiries and have today released a CCTV image of a man they need to speak with. Anyone who recognises the man is asked to call police via 101 or tweet @MetCC quoting reference CAD6588/02Dec.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis of Home Office statistics shows that an average of over three hate crimes are directed at Jews every single day in England and Wales, with Jews more than four times likelier to be targets of hate crimes than any other faith group.