Sunday, August 7, 2022

Identity card of a Briton who took hostages at a Texas synagogue

COLLYVILLE, Texas. Authorities on Sunday identified the 44-year-old British citizen as the man who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue for 10 hours before an FBI SWAT team stormed the building, ending a tense standoff that President Joe Biden called an “act of terror.”

Malik Faisal Akram was shot to death after the last of the hostages walked out at about 9 p.m. Saturday at the Beth Israel congregation near Fort Worth. The FBI said in a statement that there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but did not provide a possible motive.

Akram could be heard ranting live on Facebook about the services and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of attempting to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan. On Saturday night, FBI and police officials declined to answer questions about who shot Akram when the standoff ended.

Video from the Dallas WFAA shows people running out of the door of the synagogue, and then a man with a gun opens the same door just a few seconds later before turning and closing it. Moments later, several shots were fired, followed by the sound of an explosion.

“Rest assured, we’re focused,” Biden said during a visit to a food pantry in Philadelphia on Sunday morning. “The Attorney General is focused and making sure we deal with this kind of activity.”

Biden said the suspect was able to buy weapons on the street and may have only been in the country for a few weeks. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to questions Sunday about Akram’s immigration status and history.

The London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counterterrorism police are in contact with US authorities about the incident.

FBI Special Agent in charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly related to the Jewish community and there was no direct indication that the individual was part of any larger plan. But DeSarno said the agency’s investigation “will have a global reach.”

It was unclear why Akram chose the synagogue.

Law enforcement officials, who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said earlier that the hostage-taker demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al-Qaeda. in a federal prison in Texas. He also said he would like to be able to talk to her, according to officials, one of whom confirmed that the hostage-taker was a British citizen.

According to a law enforcement official, a rabbi in New York received a phone call from a rabbi believed to be being held hostage in a synagogue demanding that Siddiqui be released. The New York rabbi then called 911.

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According to Dallas FBI spokeswoman Cathy Chaumont, police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the area shortly thereafter.

Saturday services were broadcast live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for some time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that during the live broadcast, an angry man could be heard occasionally ranting and talking about religion, which did not show what was going on inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2:00 pm, the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” After a few moments, the feed was interrupted. A spokesman for Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook Inc.’s corporate successor, later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.

Several people heard the hostage-taker call Siddiqi his “sister” on live television. But John Floyd, chairman of the board of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group, said Siddiqui’s brother Mohammad Siddiqui was not involved.

“This attacker has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to bring justice to Dr. Aafia. We want the attacker to know that his actions are malicious and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also Mohammad Siddiqi’s legal adviser. “We have confirmed that the family member wrongly accused of this heinous act is not located near the DFW metro area.”

Texas resident Victoria Francis told AP she watched the live stream for about an hour before it cut off. She said she heard the man rant about America and claim he had a bomb.

“He was all over the map. He was very annoyed, and the more annoyed he was, the more he threatened, like, “I’m that guy with the bomb.” If you make a mistake, it’s all on you. And he would have laughed at that,” she said. He was clearly in dire straits.

Frances, who grew up near Colleyville, hooked up after reading about the hostage situation. She said it sounded like the man was on the phone with the police department and the rabbi and another person were trying to help negotiate.

Collyville, a community of about 26,000, is about 15 miles (23 km) northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue is located among large houses in a green residential area, which has several churches, a secondary and primary school, and a horse farm.

By Sunday morning, the police perimeter around the synagogue had been reduced to half a block in any direction, and FBI agents could be seen entering and exiting the building. A sign reading “Love”—the letter “o” has been replaced with a Star of David—was planted on a neighbor’s lawn.

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Beth Israel is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi. According to his biography on the temple’s website, he has worked to instill a sense of spirituality, compassion, and learning in the community, and enjoys welcoming everyone, including LGBT people, to the congregation.

In a Sunday morning post on the Cytron-Walker Facebook page, the rabbi thanked law enforcement and first responders. “I’m grateful we got out. I am grateful to be alive,” he wrote.

Rabbi Andrew Mark Paley of Dallas, who was called to the scene to help families and hostages after their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting man who was responsive to instructions given to him. The first hostage was released shortly after 17:00. This was around the time the food was delivered to those at the synagogue, but Paley said he did not know if the food delivery was part of the negotiations.

“He actually seemed a little unflappable, but I don’t know if it was some sort of shock or just a moment,” 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 he is closely monitoring the situation. “This event is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it around the world,” he wrote. He said he was “relieved and grateful” that the hostages were saved.

The standoff prompted increased security elsewhere, including in New York City, where police said they had increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of overcaution.

Aafia Siddiqi earned degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before being sentenced to 86 years in prison in 2010 on charges of assaulting and shooting US Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who saw her as a victim of the American criminal justice system.

Since then, Pakistani officials have publicly expressed interest in any deal or exchange that could lead to her release from US custody, and her case continues to attract the attention of supporters. In 2018, for example, an Ohio man who prosecutors said planned to fly to Texas and attack the prison where Siddiqui is being held in an attempt to free her was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Nation World News Desk
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