COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — Authorities on Sunday identified a 44-year-old British citizen as the man who held four people hostage at a Texas synagogue for 10 hours before an FBI tactical team stormed the building, ending a tense standoff that President Joe Biden called “an act of terror.”
Malik Faisal Akram was shot to death after the last of the hostages left around 9 p.m. Saturday at Beth Israel Congregation near Fort Worth. In a statement, the FBI said there was no indication anyone else was involved, but did not provide a possible motive.
In a live broadcast on Facebook, Akram could be heard demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist accused of trying to kill US servicemen in Afghanistan. The FBI and police declined to say who shot Akram after the standoff ended.
Video from local television station WFAA showed people running out of a synagogue door, then a man with a gun opening the same door seconds later before turning and closing it. Moments later, several rounds of gunfire and an explosion were heard.
“Rest assured, we are focused,” Biden said during a visit to a food pantry in Philadelphia on Sunday morning. “The attorney general is focused and making sure that we deal with these types of acts.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hijacker specifically targeted a problem not directly related to the Jewish community, and there was no immediate indication the man was part of a larger plan. But DeSarno said the agency’s investigation “will be global in scope.”
It was not clear why Akram chose the synagogue
Officials familiar with what happened said the kidnapper was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al Qaeda who is being held in a federal prison in Texas. Akram also wanted to talk to her.
Aafia Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before being sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges of assaulting and shooting US Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and their supporters, who saw her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.
The Beth Israel Synagogue is headed by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was among the hostages. On Sunday, he declined to say much when questioned by an AP reporter, saying only: “This is pretty overwhelming, as you can imagine. That thing that happened yesterday was not fun at all.”
Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who came to Fort Worth to spiritually help the released hostages and their families, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and collected leader during the siege.
The first hostage was released around 5 pm, around the same time food was delivered to the synagogue, but Paley said he didn’t know if that was part of the negotiations.
The first hostage released “really seemed quite composed, but I don’t know if maybe it was from shock,” Paley said.
“He was very calm, and very grateful to the police and to Rabbi Charlie,” he added.