Texas synagogue siege: hostage-taker named as 44-year-old Briton

A man who died after taking four people hostage at a Texas synagogue has been named by the FBI as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram.

Akram began a standoff with police after disrupting a religious service at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, and taking hostages including the rabbi. He released one hostage unharmed after six hours.

More than 10 hours after the siege began, members of the FBI’s hostage rescue team stormed the synagogue to free the three remaining hostages. They were said to be “alive and well” after the siege had been brought to an end.

On Sunday, Joe Biden said the gunman had used weapons he got off the street to commit “an act of terror”.

The US president, who was visiting a food bank in Philadelphia, said: “I don’t have all the facts, nor does the attorney general – but allegedly the assertion was he got the weapons on the street.

“He purchased them when he landed and it turns out there apparently were no bombs that we know of … Apparently he spent the first night in a homeless shelter. I don’t have all the details yet so I’m reluctant to go into much more detail.”

Akram’s family said they were “devastated” by his death, Sky News reported. His brother Gulbard said in a statement that family members had spent hours “liaising with Faisal” during the hostage-taking, and that although he was “suffering from mental health issues we were confident that he would not harm the hostages,”.

The family said they “do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologise wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident,” according to Sky.

Reports suggested that a live stream of the Shabbat service, available on Facebook during the standoff until it was cut off at 2pm local time, captured audio of a man talking in an English accent.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan police in London said counter terrorism policing officials were liaising with their US counterparts over the incident.

The police department said it first sent in Swat teams at the synagogue in response to emergency calls beginning at about 10.40am. The FBI made contact with the man who said he wanted to speak to a woman held in a federal prison.

Video from Dallas TV station WFAA shows people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later, before he turns around and closes the door. Moments later, several rounds of gunfire can be heard, followed by the sound of an explosion.

FBI special agent in charge, Matt DeSarno, said the hostage taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community, and there was no immediate indication that the man was part of any broader plan. But DeSarno said the agency’s investigation “will have global reach”.

In the live stream, the hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, who was convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, a law enforcement official said. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas serving an 86-year sentence.

Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream, but John Floyd, board chair for 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.

“This assailant has nothing to do with Dr Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to get justice for Dr Aafia. We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.

“We have confirmed that the family member being wrongly accused of this heinous act is not near the DFW Metro area.”

The man could be heard saying repeatedly he did not want to see anyone hurt and that he believed he was going to die, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

On Sunday the British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, condemned the incident in a statement posted on Twitter. “My thoughts are with the Jewish community and all those affected by the appalling act in Texas. We condemn this act of terrorism and antisemitism,” Truss said. She added: “We stand with US in defending the rights and freedoms of our citizens against those who spread hate.”

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 km) north-east of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a leafy residential neighborhood. Congregation Beth Israel is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi.

Anna Salton Eisen, a 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 doing pulpit swaps and participating in a community peace walk.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation,” Eisen said as the hostage situation was ongoing. “No matter how it turns out it’s hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be.”

Source: theguardian

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