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Imam stabbed during prayer service at Paterson, N.J. mosque

Paterson imam recovering after stabbing
Paterson imam recovering after stabbing 02:37

PATERSON, N.J. -- A stabbing at a mosque in New Jersey has left an imam hospitalized.

It happened during early morning prayer on Sunday while worshippers marked the holy month of Ramadan.

Watch: Paterson officials provide update on stabbing of imam

Paterson officials provide update after imam stabbed during prayer service 21:48

CBS2 has learned the 65-year-old imam is in stable condition but among his injuries is a partially collapsed lung.

There was a heavy police presence outside Omar Mosque in Paterson, including the sheriff's office, as people returned to pray.

The Passaic County prosecutor said the suspect charged is 32-year-old Serif Zorba of Paterson. He pleaded not guilty on Monday. 

Surveillance video shows just after 5:30 a.m. as everyone kneels down, a man in a white hoodie walks over some people toward Imam Sayed Elnakib and stabs him. The suspect runs off and multiple community members sprint after him and hold him down until police arrive.  

Watch: Lisa Rozner's report

Imam stabbed inside Paterson, N.J. mosque 02:19

"The imam say, 'Oh, he kill me. He kill me. Everybody follow this guy,'" witness Fadi Abulwad said. "He was bleeding a lot because he stabbed him in his neck."

Abdul Hamdan, a spokesperson for the mosque, said there were around 200 people inside and the imam was stabbed at least two times, and added Zorba is someone that some people in the community say looks familiar but none of the mosque leadership recognizes him.

"We expect that once the investigation is concluded that this will be an isolated incident. However, we have heightened our security in the mosque, along with Paterson police and Passaic County Sheriff's Department," Hamdan said.

"Good thing they catch him and he'll get punishment and everything will be okay," said Mustafa Halak of Omar Mosque.

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh and Councilman Alaa Abdelaziz, who represents the area, visited the imam in the hospital.

"I feel like we could have lost this imam. He's just praying in peace as are the 199 others that were there," Sayegh said. "Paterson has the largest Muslim population in the state of New Jersey so I just want to let people know we shouldn't have to be afraid to pray."

"It's scary seeing a guy ... he's a community leader. He's there for everyone in this community and seeing him and his kids that I've seen grow up -- they're about my age -- it was just scary seeing that," Abdelaziz said.

The Council on American Islamic Relations says it needs more information in order to determine whether this was an act of hate, but just this past Friday it called on authorities to investigate vandalism at a school about a mile away.

"The name of the school is Dr. Hani Awadallah School," said Dina Sayedahmed, communications manager for CAIR-NJ, "and the only part of his name that was scribbled out is 'allah.' Generally speaking, based on our record keeping, anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Muslim incidents generally do go up during Ramadan."

Omar Mosque allowed CBS2 inside as people returned throughout the afternoon and evening for prayer with heightened security. A mosque spokesperson said the imam is expected to make a full recovery.

Zorba, the suspect, faces several charges, including attempted murder and unlawful possession of a weapon. He has a court appearance Monday.

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