Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Texas synagogue hostage taker stayed at homeless shelters before attack

COLLYVILLE, TX (AP) — An armed man who took four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue spent time at local homeless shelters in the two weeks leading up to the attack and was dropped off at one of them by someone . he seemed to know.

Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national identified by authorities as the hostage-taker, was taken to a shelter in downtown Dallas on Jan. 2 by a man who hugged him and talked to him, said Wayne Walker, CEO. and pastor of OurCalling, a homeless organization.

READ MORE: Texas rabbi talks about dramatic synagogue hostage escape

“He was dropped off by someone who looked like he was in a relationship with him,” said Walker, who said they turned over the photos and videos to the FBI.

An FBI spokeswoman said late Monday that they had no information they could confirm regarding Akram’s stay at Our Call. The agency said there were no early indications that anyone else was involved in the hostage taking.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS Mornings that he let Akram into Beth Israel on Saturday morning because he seemed to need shelter. The synagogue is located in Colleyville, a city of about 26,000 people located 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Dallas.

Cytron-Walker said the man did not appear threatening or suspicious at first, but he later heard the click of a gun as he prayed.

The rabbi and three other men were participating in a live-streamed worship service when they were taken hostage. The first hostage was released shortly before 5:00 pm Cytron-Walker, while the other two escaped around 9:00 pm when Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the shooter.

“The exit wasn’t far,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to go. I threw a chair at the shooter and headed for the door. And all three were able to get out without firing a shot.”

Akram was killed after the hostages escaped. Authorities declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.

Video of the end of the standoff from the Dallas WFAA showed people running out of the door of the synagogue, and then a man with a gun opened the same door just a few seconds later before he turned and closed it. Moments later, several shots rang out, followed by an explosion.

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On Sunday evening, the FBI released a statement calling the test “a terrorism-related case targeting the Jewish community” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force was investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about the prisoner serving an 86-year sentence in the United States. The announcement followed Saturday’s comments by the special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Dallas that the hostage-taker was focused on the problem. “has no direct relationship to the Jewish community.”

Akram could be heard ranting live on Facebook about the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani neuroscientist with suspected al-Qaeda ties who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.

“For the last hour or so of the standoff, he didn’t get what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told CBS Mornings.

At a service Monday night at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well wishes, kindness and compassion” was overwhelming.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sympathy,” Cytron-Walker said.

“While very few of us are feeling well right now, we will get through this,” he said.

The investigation extended to England, where Manchester police announced Sunday night that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that the arrests were made by counter-terrorism officers, but did not say if any charges had been brought against the couple.

The teenagers are Akram’s sons, two US law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. Investigators believe Akram was in contact with his sons hours before the standoff and are working to find out what information he may have shared with them, one official said. Officials were unable to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

British media, including the Guardian, reported on Tuesday that Akram was under investigation by MI5 Homeland Security for a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020. The investigation was closed after authorities concluded that Akram did not pose a threat, reports said.

The UK Home Office did not immediately comment on the reports.

READ MORE: Texas synagogue receives outpouring of support after 10-hour hostage trial

President Joe Biden called this episode a terrorist attack. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly bought the weapons on the street.

Federal investigators believe Akram acquired the gun used in the hostage taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation continues. Akram arrived in the US at Kennedy Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.

Akram arrived in the US on a tourist visa from the UK, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not meant to be made public. The London Metropolitan Police said its counterterrorism police are working with US authorities.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said in the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her US counterpart Alejandro Majorcas and offered “full support” to UK police and security services in the investigation.

After visiting OurCalling on January 2, he stayed at another homeless shelter in Dallas.

Akram spent three nights from January 6 to 13 at Union Gospel Mission Dallas, homeless shelter CEO Bruce Butler told CNN. According to their records, Akram last left on January 13, two days before he took hostages at the synagogue.

Akram used his phone during the talks to communicate with people outside of law enforcement, according to the law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

It is not clear why Akram chose the synagogue, although the prison where Siddiqi is serving his sentence is located in Fort Worth.

A Texas lawyer representing Siddiqui said on Monday that Siddiqui had nothing to do with Akram.

“She said from the very beginning, when she was sentenced, that she does not want any violence done on her behalf, and she does not condone any kind of violence,” lawyer Marva Elbialli said.

Akram, known to his family as Faisal, hailed from Blackburn, an industrial town in the northwest of England. His family said he “suffered from mental health issues”.

“We would also like to add that any attack on any person, be it a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, etc., is wrong and should always be condemned,” wrote his brother Gulbar Akram.

Associated Press contributors Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Danica Kirka and Sylvia Hui in London, and Michael Balsamo in Washington also contributed to this report.

Nation World News Desk
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