COLLEYVILLE, Texas — U.S. and U.K. authorities on Monday continued an investigation into a weekend standoff at a Texas synagogue that ended in the death of an armed British national and a rabbi crediting a training of prior security for getting him and three members of his congregation out safely.
Authorities have identified the hostage taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday evening after the last hostages fled Congregation Beth Israel around 9 p.m. The FBI said there was no early indication anyone else was involved, but it did not provide a possible motive.
The investigation has spread to England, where Manchester police announced on Sunday night that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the clash. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests, but did not say whether the couple faced charges.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said safety training at his suburban Fort Worth congregation over the years was what got him and the three other hostages through the 10-hour ordeal, which he described as traumatic.
“During the last hour of our hostage situation, the shooter has become increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instructions we received, we would not have been ready to act and flee when the situation arose.”
Video of the end of the standoff from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running through a synagogue door, then a man holding a gun opening the same door seconds later before turning around and to close it. A few moments later, several shots and then an explosion are heard.
Authorities declined to say who shot Akram, saying the case was still under investigation.
Akram could be heard ranting on a services Facebook livestream and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda who was found guilty of attempting to kill army officers American in Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a gun on the street.
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage crisis at a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation is ongoing. . Akram arrived in the United States at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.
Akram recently arrived in the United States on a tourist visa from Britain, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were in contact with US authorities over the incident.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said late Saturday that the hostage taker was specifically focused on an issue that was not directly related to the Jewish community. Akram’s reason for choosing the synagogue was unclear, although the prison where Siddiqui is serving his sentence is near Fort Worth.
On Sunday evening, the FBI released a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related case, in which the Jewish community was targeted.” The agency said the Joint Terrorism Task Force was investigating.
Michael Finfer, the congregation’s president, said in a statement “there is a one in a million chance the shooter will choose our congregation.”
Akram used his phone during negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Several people heard the hostage taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream. But John Floyd, chairman of the board of directors of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group – said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved. .
Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched about an hour of the live stream, said she heard the man denounce America and claim he had a bomb. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats.
“He was just all over the map. He was quite irritated and the more irritated he was, the more threats he made, like “I’m the guy with the bomb”. If you make a mistake, it’s all up to you. And he was laughing about it,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 23 kilometers northeast of Fort Worth. Reached outside his home on Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a bit overwhelming as you can imagine. It wasn’t fun yesterday,” he told the AP.
Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages after their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. It was around the time food was being delivered to people inside the synagogue, but Paley said he didn’t know if that was part of the negotiations.
Cytron-Walker said his congregation received training from local authorities and the Secure Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by a coalition of Jewish organizations and describes itself as the “official safety and security organization” of the Jewish community in North America. Michael Masters, the organization’s CEO, said the congregation conducted safety training in August and had not heard of Akram before.
The standoff has led authorities to step up security in other places, including New York, where police said they have increased their presence “in key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.
Tucker reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin also contributed to this report; 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 Issac Scharf in Jerusalem.