Monday, May 23, 2022

Two teenagers arrested in UK in connection with Texas synagogue hostage situation

CALLYVILLE, TX (AP) — Police in England said Sunday they have arrested two teenagers as part of an investigation into an armed British citizen who held four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue.

Greater Manchester Police have not named the suspects or if they have been charged with anything. They described them as teenagers being held for interrogation.

Dallas FBI spokeswoman Cathy Chaumont relayed questions to the Manchester police.

THIS IS A BIG NEWS UPDATE. The earlier history of the AP follows below.

A rabbi who was among four people taken hostage at a Texas synagogue said on Sunday that their armed captor became “increasingly militant and menacing” towards the end of a 10-hour standoff that ended with an FBI SWAT team breaking into the building. and the thief is death.

Authorities have identified hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram, 44, who was killed on Saturday night after the last hostages fled the Beth Israel congregation around 9 p.m. , but as of Sunday afternoon this has not provided a possible motive.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker expressed his gratitude that his parishioners in suburban Fort Worth received security training over the years, which helped him and three other hostages get through what he called traumatic experiences.

“In the final hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and menacing,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instructions we received, we would not be prepared to act and flee when such a situation arises.”

President Joe Biden called the episode a terrorist attack. 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 attempting to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.

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 from 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 John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.

COLLYVILLE, TX – JANUARY 15: Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller speaks at a press conference outside Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. All four people who were held hostage at the Beth Israel synagogue were safely released after being held captive by an armed man for more than 10 hours. Earlier this morning, police responded to the hostage situation following reports of a man with a gun holding people captive. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Brandon Bell via Getty Images

“Rest assured, we’re focused,” Biden said. “The Attorney General is focused and making sure we deal with this kind of activity.”

Akram recently 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 in a statement that its counterterrorism police are in contact with US authorities about the incident.

FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno said the hostage taking was focused on an issue not directly related to the Jewish community. It was not clear why Akram chose the synagogue, although the prison where Saddiqi is serving his sentence is located in Fort Worth.

Michael Finfer, president of the community, said in a statement that “there was a one in a million chance that the shooter chose our community.”

Authorities declined to say who shot Akram, saying the case is still under investigation.

Authorities said the police were first called to the synagogue at 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.

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.

Police stand in front of the Beth Israel Congregation synagogue on Sunday, January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas.  The man held the hostages for more than 10 hours on Saturday in the temple.  The hostages managed to escape, and the invader was killed.  FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno said the team would investigate. "shooting incident." (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Police stand in front of the Beth Israel Congregation synagogue on Sunday, January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. The man held the hostages for more than 10 hours on Saturday in the temple. The hostages managed to escape, and the invader was killed. FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno said the team was investigating a “shooting incident.” (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

“We want the attacker to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also Mohammad Siddiqi’s legal adviser.

Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched the live broadcast for about an hour, said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb. Biden said that despite the threats, there appeared to be no explosives.

“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 it,” Francis said. He was clearly in dire straits.

Collyville, a community of about 26,000, is about 15 miles (23 km) northeast of Fort Worth. 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.

Reached outside his home on Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to elaborate on the episode. “It’s a bit overwhelming, as you can imagine. It wasn’t fun yesterday,” he told AP.

Andrew Mark Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages after their release, said Cytron-Walker acted calmly and reassuringly. The first hostage was released shortly after 17:00. This was around the time the food was delivered to the synagogue, but Paley said he did not know if this was part of the negotiations.

“He actually seemed a little unperturbed, but I don’t know if it was some sort of shock or just a moment,” Paley said of the first hostage released.

Cytron-Walker said his community has received training from local authorities and the Safe Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by a coalition of Jewish organizations and calls itself the “official safety organization” of the Jewish community in North America. Michael Masters, the organization’s CEO, said parishioners held a safety training in August and were previously unaware of Akram.

The standoff has forced authorities to step up security measures elsewhere, including in New York City, where police said they increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of a precaution.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted that “this event is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it around the world.”

Tucker reported from Washington, DC. This reporter also featured Associated Press contributors Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin; Michael Balsamo in Washington; Colleen Long in Philadelphia; Elliot Spagat in San Diego; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. Sisak in New York; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee; and Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem.


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