Police identify hostage-taker in Texas synagogue standoff
The suspect who held a rabbi and his congregants hostage at a Texas synagogue was identified Sunday as a British citizen, as witnesses recalled watching the terrifying situation play out on a Facebook livestream.
Hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was shot dead after the last of the four hostages was released from the 10-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday night, the FBI said.
“The FBI’s Evidence Response Team (ERT) will continue processing evidence at the synagogue,” the agency said. “At this time, there is no indication that other individuals are involved.”
A UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday, “We are aware of the death of a British man in Texas and are in contact with the local authorities.”
Akram took four people captive, including Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, during a Shabbat morning service around 11 a.m. Saturday, cops said.
A Facebook live stream of the services captured him ranting in a British accent and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al Qaeda who is locked up at a federal prison in Texas.
Congregation member Stacey Silverman recalled watching the feed for more than an hour, listening to the Akram insist to the hostages, “I’m not a criminal” and apologizing for the terrifying situation, CNN reported.
Akram jumped from speaking one language to the next and at points was “screaming hysterically,” she said.
“At any moment, I thought there was going to be a gunshot,” Silverman told the outlet.
Another Texas resident, Victoria Francis, said she heard the man bash America and claim he had a bomb.
“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Shortly before the feed cut out around 2 p.m., the suspect could be heard saying, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.”
A rep for Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook’s parent company, later confirmed that the video had been removed.
During the tense standoff, Akram also called a rabbi in New York City in a bizarre bid for help, according to sources – but was “singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” according to FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno.
Authorities negotiated with the suspect throughout the day, as those living nearby the synagogue were evacuated as a precaution.
“It’s very likely this situation would have ended very badly early on in the day had we not had professional, consistent negotiation with the subject,” DeSarno told CNN.
One of the hostages, a man, was released around 5 p.m., around the time that food was delivered to those inside the synagogue, according to Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was on scene to assist with families and hostages upon their release.
“He appeared a little unfazed, actually, but I don’t know if that was sort of shock or just the moment,” Paley said of the first hostage after his release. “He was calm and grateful to law enforcement and Rabbi Charlie.”
Dramatic video showed hostages escaping through a door — and Akram emerging with his gun in hand, before retreating into the building after spotting a SWAT team.
Moments later, gunfire could be heard, followed by the sound of an explosion.
All hostages were safely rescued, authorities announced late Saturday.
“Prayers answered,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbot tweeted at 9:30 p.m., shortly after an FBI hostage rescue team that was flown in from Virginia conducted the operation at the house of worship.
Cytron-Walker, the rabbi who was held captive, wouldn’t discuss the terrifying ordeal Sunday, only telling the Associated Press, “It’s a little overwhelming as your can imagine. It was not fun yesterday.”
President Joe Biden declared the hostage situation an “act of terror” but said that authorities “just don’t have enough facts” to determine why Akram targeted the synagogue.
“I don’t think there is sufficient information to know about why he targeted that synagogue, why he insisted on the release of someone who’s been in prison for over 10 years, why he was engaged, why he was using an anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli comments,” Biden said Sunday during a visit to a food bank in Philadelphia.
The president said that he didn’t “have all of the facts” about how Akram obtained the arms but that the man “allegedly purchased it on the street” and might have only been in the US for a few weeks.
“Guns are — the idea of background checks are critical but you can’t stop someone from buying something on the street,” he said.
Biden said that he spoke to US Attorney General Merrick Garland about the ordeal.
“We are focused. The Attorney General is focused. I’m making sure that we deal with these kinds of acts,” he said.