COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — A rabbi who was among four people held hostage at a Texas synagogue said on Sunday their captor became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” toward the end of the 10 a.m. standoff. , which ended with an FBI SWAT team rushing into the building and the death of the kidnapper.
Authorities have identified the hostage taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed on Saturday evening after the last hostages fled Congregation Beth Israel around 9 p.m. The FBI said there was no indication anyone else was involved. , but he had not provided a possible motive by Sunday afternoon.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited the safety training his suburban Fort Worth congregation has received over the years with getting him and the three other hostages through the ordeal he has described as traumatic.
“During the last hour of our hostage situation, the shooter has become increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instructions we received, we would not have been ready to act and flee when the situation arose.”
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Akram could be heard ranting on a services Facebook livestream and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda who was found guilty of attempting to kill army officers American in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly bought a gun on the street and may have only been in the United States for a few weeks.
Video from Dallas television station WFAA showed people running through a synagogue door, then a man holding a gun opening the same door seconds later before turning around and closing it. A few moments later, several shots and then an explosion are heard.
“Rest assured, we are focused,” Biden said. “The Attorney General is focused and making sure we deal with these kinds of acts.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials did not immediately respond to questions Sunday about Akram’s immigration status and history. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were in contact with US authorities over the incident.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage taker was specifically focused on an issue that was not directly related to the Jewish community, and that there was no immediate indication that it was part of a larger plan.
Akram’s reason for choosing the synagogue was unclear, although the prison where Saddiqui is serving his sentence is in Fort Worth. Michael Finfer, the congregation’s president, said in a statement “there is a one in a million chance the shooter will choose our congregation.”
Authorities declined to say who shot Akram, saying the case was still under investigation.
Law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity earlier said the hostage taker demanded the release of Siddiqui and wanted to be allowed to speak to him.
Authorities said police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after.
Saturday services were streamed live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for some time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the live broadcast, which did not show what was going on inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead. Moments later, the power was cut off. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.
Several people heard the hostage taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream. But John Floyd, chairman of the board of directors of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group – said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved. .
“We want the abuser to know that his actions are evil and directly undermine those of us who seek justice for Dr Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also legal counsel to Mohammad Siddiqui.
Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched about an hour of the live stream, said she heard the man denounce America and claim he had a bomb. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats.
“He was just all over the map. He was quite irritated and the more irritated he was, the more threats he made, like “I’m the guy with the bomb”. If you make a mistake, it’s all up to you. And he was laughing about it,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 23 kilometers northeast of Fort Worth. By Sunday morning, the police perimeter around the synagogue had shrunk to half a block in either direction, and FBI agents could be seen entering and exiting the building. A sign saying “Love” – with the “o” replaced by a Star of David – was planted in a neighbour’s lawn.
Reached outside his home on Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a bit overwhelming as you can imagine. It wasn’t fun yesterday,” he told the AP.
Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages after their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. It was around the time food was being delivered to people inside the synagogue, but Paley said he didn’t know if that was part of the negotiations.
“He seemed a little unfazed, actually, but I don’t know if it was some kind of shock or just the timing,” Paley said of the first hostage after his release. “He was calm and grateful to law enforcement and Rabbi Charlie.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that “this event is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it around the world.”
The standoff has led authorities to step up security in other places, including New York, where police said they have increased their presence “in key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.
Tucker reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin also contributed to this reporter; Michael Balsamo in Washington; Colleen Long in Philadelphia; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. Sisak in New York; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee; and Issac Scharf in Jerusalem.
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