Colleyville, TX – A British national took a rabbi and three parishioners hostage during a 11-hour armed standoff at a synagogue on Saturday morning.
The incident began at approximately 10:40 a.m. on Jan. 15, when police received a 911 call reporting that a “gunman had entered” the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue and taken multiple hostages, Colleyville Police Department (CPD) Chief Michael Miller said during a press conference later that day, according to The New York Times.
The rabbi of the synagogue, Charlie Cytron-Walker, was among the four hostages, USA Today reported.
Livestream footage from the synagogue showed the outraged suspect ranting and occasionally talking about religion before Facebook ultimately cut the feed, according to the paper.
Investigators later identified the gunman as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, The New York Times reported.
An anonymous law enforcement official said Akram demanded the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently incarcerated in a Fort Worth federal prison for trying to murder Americans in Afghanistan, according to USA Today.
Siddiqui, who is allegedly affiliated with al-Qaida, was detained by Afghan police in 2008 after she was found with handwritten notes referring to a prospective “mass casualty attack” in locations such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building, USA Today reported.
She also had notes referring to the construction of various bombs, prosecutors said.
Siddiqui is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence for grabbing a military official’s M-4 rifle and shooting at U.S. officials who came to interview her in Ghazni, Afghanistan, USA Today reported.
She declared during the attack that she intended to kill Americans, according to prosecutors.
During the standoff on Saturday, Akram allegedly told negotiators that he and Siddiqui would be “going to Jannah (Muslim belief of heaven) after he sees her,” The New York Times reported.
Local, state, and federal law enforcement officers responded to the scene and began evacuating residences located near the synagogue while negotiators continued their attempts to end the standoff peacefully.
Matthew DeSarno, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Dallas Field Office, said the suspect “was singularly focused on one issue” as they spoke with him, according to The New York Times.
“The negotiation team had a high frequency and duration of contact with him,” SAC DeSarno said.
He noted that communication did cease at times, and that the relationship between the gunman and negotiators “ebbed and flowed” and occasionally “got intense,” The New York Times reported.
Cytron-Walker later said Akram became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” during the final hour of the lengthy standoff, according to USA Today.
“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” the rabbi said, according to Axios.
“Their children are being traumatized right now because you guys…don’t want to work with me,” Akram told the negotiators at one point, according to The New York Times.
He then asked each of the hostages how many children they had before turning his attention back to the negotiator.
“Why are you going to leave seven children orphaned?” Akram asked.
The gunman let one male hostage go at approximately 5 p.m., The New York Times reported.
He was uninjured.
Chief Miller said the FBI’s elite hostage rescue team flew in from Virginia to assist and ended up breaching the synagogue at approximately 9 p.m., The New York Times reported.
The remaining three remaining hostages were safely evacuated just before a suspect holding a gun briefly stepped out into the doorway of the building and retreated back inside, according to the paper.
A group of law enforcement officers entered the synagogue through two doors just before sounds of gunfire and a loud blast erupted, The New York Times reported.
Police later confirmed Akram was dead.
It is unclear whether the gunman shot himself or if he was killed by police.
“I think that is still part of the ongoing investigation,” Chief Miller said, according to The New York Times.
Police in Britain confirmed Sunday that they arrested two teenagers in connection with the standoff in Texas.
“As part of the ongoing investigation into the attack that took place at a Synagogue in Texas on 15 January 2022, Officer from Counter Terror Policing North West have made two arrests in relation to the incident,” Greater Manchester Police tweeted. “Two teenagers were detained in South Manchester this evening. They remain in custody for questioning.”
— Greater Manchester Police (@gmpolice) January 16, 2022
Details regarding the teens’ alleged roles in the attack have not been released.
SAC DeSarno said investigators have also been in contact with law enforcement officials in Israel, USA Today reported.
Akram entered the United States two weeks ago via Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, according to The New York Times.
President Joe Biden said the suspect was able to buy a firearm “on the streets” and referred to the attack as an “act of terror,” the New York Post reported.
“Rest assured, we are focused,” President Biden said on Sunday, according to USA Today. “The attorney general is focused and making sure that we deal with these kinds of acts.”
Cytron-Walker praised the law enforcement response to the harrowing standoff and thanked everyone for their prayers, USA Today reported.
The rabbi noted that he and his congregation have participated in “multiple security courses” instructed by the FBI, police, and other organizations in the past, according to The New York Times.
One of those trainings, which was held in August of 2021, involved the Secure Community Network.
Students learned about countering active threats, exiting safely in emergencies, situational awareness, and sheltering in place, among other issues, The New York Times reported.
“The Talmud teaches us that we shouldn’t plan on miracles,” the organization’s chief executive, Michael Masters, told the paper. “We hope for them, we pray for them, but we have to rely on ourselves.”
Cytron-Walker said the training made all the difference.
“We are alive today because of that education,” he said.
“I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support, all of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us, all of the security training that helped save us,” the rabbi wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community. I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.”