World

Malik Faisal Akram ID’d is a Texas synagogue hostage taker

COLLEYVILLE, TEXAS – Authorities on Sunday identified a 44-year-old British national as the man who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue for 10 hours before a team The FBI’s SWAT stormed the building, ending a tense standoff that US President Joe Biden called “an act of terrorism.”

Malik Faisal Akram was shot dead after the last hostage escaped around 9 p.m. Saturday at Beth Israel Church near Fort Worth. In a statement, the FBI said there was no indication anyone else was involved, but it offered no possible motive.

Akram can be heard on Facebook live streaming services and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of attempting to kill US military officers in Afghanistan. Spokesmen for the FBI and police declined to answer questions Saturday night about who shot Akram when the siege ended.

Video from Dallas television station WFAA shows people running out the door of the synagogue, and then a gun-wielding man opens the identical door seconds later before he turns around and closes it. Moments later, several rounds of gunfire rang out, followed by explosions.

“Rest assured, we’re focused,” Biden said during a visit to a Philadelphia grocery store Sunday morning. “The Attorney General focuses and makes sure that we deal with these types of behavior.”

FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue that was not directly related to the Jewish community and there was no immediate indication that the man was part of any What’s the bigger plan? But DeSarno said the agency’s investigation “will be global in scope.”

It is unclear why Akram chose the synagogue.

Law enforcement officials were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation, and the person who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity earlier said the hostage-taker had requested the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a housewife. Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida. in a federal prison in Texas. He also said he wanted to be able to speak to her, according to officials, one of whom confirmed that the hostage-taker was a British citizen.

A rabbi in New York City received a call from a rabbi believed to be held hostage in a synagogue to request the release of Siddiqui, a law enforcement official. said. Then the rabbi in New York called 911.

Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the vicinity shortly thereafter, FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said.

Saturday’s services have been live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for some time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that an angry man can sometimes be heard talking about religion during the live stream, which does not indicate what is happening inside the synagogue.

Just before 2 p.m., the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy die.” After a while, the feed was cut off. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.

Many people heard the hostage-taker calling Siddiqui his “sister” on the live stream. But John Floyd, Houston board chair of the Council on American Muslim Relations, – the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group – said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.

“This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign for justice for Dr. Aafia. We want the attacker to know that his actions were evil and directly undermines those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. “Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also a legal adviser to Mohammad Siddiqui. The family member falsely accused of this atrocity was not near the DFW Metro area.”

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

“He’s all over the map. He’s pretty cranky and the more irritable he gets, the more threats he’ll make, like` `I’m the bomb. If you make a mistake, it’s all in. by you.’ And he’ll laugh about it,” she said. “He’s clearly in a lot of pain.”

Francis, who grew up near Colleyville, watched after she read about the hostage situation. She said it appeared the man was on the phone with the police department, with the rabbi and another person trying to help negotiate.

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 km) northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a tree-lined residential area that includes several churches, a middle and elementary school and a horse farm.

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

In a post Sunday morning on Cytron-Walker’s Facebook page, the rabbi thanked law enforcement and first responders, as well as security training “which helped save us.” .”

“I am grateful to my family. I am grateful to the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community. I am grateful that we made it. I am grateful to be alive,” he wrote.

Anna Salton Eisen, founder and former president of the synagogue, said the congregation has about 140 members and Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community. , including swapping podiums and participating in a community peace walk. She described Saturday’s events as “surreal.”

“This is unlike anything we’ve been through. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation,” Eisen said as the hostage situation unfolded. “No matter how it plays out, it’s hard to fathom how we’ll all be changed by this, because for sure we will.”

US President Joe Biden issued a statement thanking law enforcement after the hostage situation ended.

“There’s much more we will learn in the coming days about the hostage-taker’s motives. But let me be clear to anyone intending to sow hate – we will be against anti-Semitism. Thai and combat the rise of extremism in this country,” Biden said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that he was monitoring the situation closely. “This event is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism still exists and we must continue to fight it around the world,” he wrote. He said he was “relieved and thankful” that the hostages were freed.

The standoff has prompted increased security elsewhere, including in New York City, where police said they increased their presence “at key Jewish facilities” amid the state of emergency. caution.

Aafia Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced to 86 years in prison in 2010 for assaulting and shooting US Army officers after being held in Afghanistan for two years. before. The punishment has sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who see her as a victim of the American criminal justice system.

In the years since, Pakistani officials have expressed public interest in any kind of deal or swap that could lead to her release from US custody and her case continuing. continues to attract the attention of supporters. For example, in 2018, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attack the prison where Siddiqui was being held to free her was sentenced to 22 years in prison. .

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Tucker and Balsamo reporting from Washington, DC; Associated Press writers, Jennifer McDermott of Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. Sisak in New York; Holly Meyer of Nashville, Tenn.; Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas; and Isaac Scharf of Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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