Cornell University student faces federal charges over antisemitic threats

(Reuters) – Federal prosecutors on Tuesday charged a Cornell University student for allegedly making online threats against Jewish students at the Ivy League school over the weekend.

The arrest follows warnings by officials to a congressional hearing on Tuesday about increased hate directed at Jewish students in the U.S. during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza.

The U.S. government and advocacy groups have reported increased threats against Jews, Muslims and Arab Americans since fighting broke out in Gaza.

A federal complaint identified the Cornell suspect as Patrick Dai, 21, charging him with posting threats to kill or injure another person using interstate communications.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul had previously said a “person of interest” was in New York State Police custody for questioning.

The U.S. Justice Department accused him of posting messages to the Cornell section of an online discussion site that included calls for the deaths of Jewish people and threats to “shoot up” a campus dining hall serving Kosher food.

Reuters could not immediately identify Dai’s attorney to make a statement in his defense.

Federal prosecutors allege Dai threatened to stab and slit the throat of any Jewish men he saw on campus, to rape and throw off a cliff any Jewish women, and to behead any Jewish babies. He also threatened to use an assault rifle to shoot Jewish people the Justice Department said in a press release.

The White House on Monday expressed concern over the threats, and Biden administration officials met with American Jewish leaders to discuss ways to stem the rising tide of antisemitism at U.S. universities.

Joel Malina, Cornell’s vice president for university relations, said the school was grateful to the FBI for apprehending the suspect.

“We remain shocked by and condemn these antisemitic threats and believe they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Malina said in a statement.

The advocacy group Anti-Defamation League reported last week that antisemitic incidents in the United States had risen by about 400% in the two weeks since the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, compared with the same period the previous year.

About 190 of the 312 antisemitic incidents tallied by the group were linked to the war between Israel and Hamas. Of those 190, more than half consisted of rallies where the group found “explicit or strong implicit support for Hamas and/or violence against Jews in Israel.”

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Jonathan Allen in New York and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Michael Perry)