Authorities on Sunday identified a 44-year-old British national as the man who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue before an FBI SWAT team stormed the building, sparking a tense standoff. ended what President Joe Biden called “an act of terror”. ,
Malik Faisal Akram was shot dead at Beth Israel Congregation near Fort Worth at around 9 p.m. Saturday after the last hostages were released. The FBI said in a statement that there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but it did not provide a possible motive.
Akram can be heard boasting on the services’ Facebook livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan. The FBI and police spokesmen on Saturday night declined to answer questions about who shot Akram at the end of the standoff.
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“Reassurance, we’re focused,” Biden said during a tour of a food pantry in Philadelphia on Sunday morning. “The attorney general is focused and making sure we deal with these kinds of acts.”
Biden said the suspect was able to buy weapons on the street and may have been in the country within a few weeks. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to questions about Akram’s immigration status and history on Sunday.
London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were contacting US officials about the incident.
FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno in charge said the hostage taker focused exclusively on an issue not directly related to the Jewish community, and that there was no immediate indication that the man was part of a wider plan. . But DeCarno said the agency’s investigation “will have global reach.”
It was not clear 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 previously said that the hostage-taker had sought the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Afiya Siddiqui, He was suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda. in a federal prison in Texas. He also said that he would like to be able to speak with them, according to officials, one of whom confirmed that the hostage-taker was a British national.
A law enforcement official said a rabbi in New York City received a call from a rabbi held hostage in a synagogue demanding Siddiqui’s release. The New York rabbi then called 911.
FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said police were first called to the synagogue at around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding areas soon after.
For some time Saturday services were being broadcast live on the synagogue’s Facebook page. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard shouting and talking about religion several times during the livestream, which did not show what was happening inside the synagogue.
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Shortly before 2 pm, the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed was cut. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.
Many heard that the hostage-taker referred to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream. But John Floyd, the board chairman of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammed Siddiqui, was not involved.
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“This attacker has nothing to do with Dr. Afia, his family, or the global campaign for justice for Dr. Afia. We want the attacker to know that his actions are wicked and directly to those of us. who are demanding justice for Dr. Afia,” said Floyd, who is also the legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui. “We have confirmed that the family member is being falsely accused of this heinous act. which is not near the DFW metro area.”
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Texas resident Victoria Francis told the AP that she watched the livestream for about an hour before cutting it. He said he heard the man boasting against America and claimed he had a bomb.
“He was just all over the map. He got so annoyed and the more irritated he got, the more threats he made, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, it’s all on you.’ And he would laugh at him,” she said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Francis, who grew up near Collieville, saw her after reading about the hostage situation. She said it looked like the man was talking to the police department on the phone, with the rabbi and another person trying to help with the conversation.
Collyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a leafy residential neighborhood that includes several churches, a middle and primary school, and a horse farm.
By Sunday morning, the police cordon around the synagogue had halved in either direction and FBI agents could be seen moving in and out of the building. In a neighbor’s lawn the “love” _ was replaced with an “o” with a Star of David.
The congregation Beth Israel is led by Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi. He has worked to bring a spirit of spirituality, compassion, and learning to the community, according to his biography on the temple’s website, and he loves to welcome everyone, including LGBT people, to the congregation.
In a Sunday morning post on Citroen-Walker’s Facebook page, the rabbi thanked law enforcement and first-responders. “I’m grateful we made it. I’m grateful to be alive,” he wrote.
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Rabbi Andrew Mark Paley of Dallas, who was called to the scene to help families and hostages upon his release, said that Citron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence who was responsive to the instructions given to him. Was. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m., this was around the time people inside the synagogue were given food, but Paley said he didn’t know the food distribution was part of the negotiations.
Of the first hostage after his release, Paley said, “Actually, he appeared a little taken aback, but I don’t know if it was some kind of shock or just the moment.” “He was calm and grateful to law enforcement and Rabbi Charlie.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that he was closely monitoring the situation. “This incident is a strong 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 rescued.
The standoff increased security in other places, including New York City, where police said they had increased their presence “at major Jewish institutions”.
Afia Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was jailed for 86 years in 2010 for assaulting and shooting US Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. was sentenced. The sentence sparked outrage in Pakistan from political leaders and their supporters, who saw him as a victim by the US criminal justice system.
In the years that followed, Pakistani officials have publicly expressed interest in any sort of deal or swap that could result in his release from US custody, and his case continued to attract the attention of supporters. Is. For example, in 2018, prosecutors say an Ohio man planned to fly to Texas and raid the prison, where he was sentenced to 22 years in prison, in an attempt to free Siddiqui.
Tucker and Balsamo also reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber and Austin had Acacia Coronado; Colleen Long in Philadelphia; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. in New York. Sisak; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tenn.; and Isaac Sharf in Jerusalem.
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