Hostage-taker at Texas synagogue identified as British citizen

·4 min read
Hostage-taker at Texas synagogue identified as British citizen

The FBI identified the gunman who held four people hostage at a synagogue in Texas on Saturday, leading to an hours-long standoff outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British citizen, held the hostages against their will at the Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in the city of Colleyville, according to Matthew DeSarno, the FBI's special agent in charge in Dallas.

Authorities said Akram died during the standoff Saturday night but did not offer further details. A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the agency was aware of "the death of a British man in Texas" but did not say whether he was referring to the suspect.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss issued a statement on Twitter on Sunday, saying her thoughts were "with the Jewish community and all those affected by the appalling act in Texas."

Describing the incident as an "act of terrorism and anti-Semitism," she said: "We stand with U.S. in defending the rights and freedoms of our citizens against those who spread hate."

Late Sunday, British authorities said that two people were being held in connection with the Texas standoff.

“Two teenagers were detained in South Manchester this evening,” Greater Manchester Police said in a statement. “They remain in custody for questioning.”

A senior law enforcement official told NBC News the teens are Akram's sons.

According to this official, Akram was in touch with his sons at some point during the situation on Saturday.

Police have not released the identities of the two teenagers detained.

The two were picked up by officers from a U.K. law enforcement group called Counter Terror Policing North West, the department said. They described the matter as part of an ongoing investigation in England.

The FBI’s Evidence Response Team is processing evidence at the synagogue, DeSarno said in a statement earlier Sunday. “At this time, there is no indication that other individuals are involved," the statement said.

In a statement late Sunday, the FBI said it's always focused on extremist threats to the Jewish community, other religious groups, and people of color.

"This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force," the bureau said.

"Preventing acts of terrorism and violence is the number one priority of the FBI," it said.

During the nearly 10-hour hostage situation, Akram demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, according to three senior law enforcement officials briefed on the situation.

Siddiqui, 49, was convicted by a federal jury in 2010 of attempting to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan and is currently being held at FMC Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth. Her sentencing was supplemented by a terror enhancement.

President Joe Biden addressed the hostage situation Sunday, commending the authorities on the ground who resolved the conflict. "They did one hell of a job. This was an act of terror."

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was among those who were held hostage Saturday when Akram disrupted the morning Shabbat service, which was livestreamed for the congregation.

It’s unclear exactly how the situation unfolded Saturday morning, but the man had Cytron-Walker call a rabbi in New York City to say he was being held hostage and to express the demand of Siddiqui’s release, the officials said.

Cytron-Walker said he was "filled with appreciation" for those who offered their support and the law enforcement who helped them to escape unharmed.

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

He said security training he's received in the past from the FBI, Colleyville police, and civilian organizations came into play as the situation became more unpredictable.

"In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening," Cytron-Walker said. "Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself."

DeSarno credited hostage negotiators during a briefing Saturday for their work alongside hundreds of local and federal authorities.

Akram’s brother, Gulbar, said in statement obtained by Sky News Sunday that their family assisted authorities in negotiations and that Akram was "suffering from mental health issues."

"We would like to say that we as a family do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologize wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident," the statement said.

He added that the family was "absolutely devastated" and called any attack on another human being "absolutely inexcusable."

The first hostage was released unharmed at about 5 p.m., but the others were freed roughly four hours later, when the FBI's hostage rescue team entered the synagogue. The hostages, all of whom were adults, were not physically harmed and did not require medical attention, officials said.

“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet.