Texas rabbi ‘grateful to be alive’ after identifying synagogue hostage suspect

A Texas rabbi took hostage with three members of his congregation by an armed man demanding the release of a convicted terrorist, posted a social media message on Sunday saying he was “grateful to be alive.” .”

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was leading Shabbat services at Beth Israel Congregation in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville, Texas, on Saturday when a man interrupted the service and alleged that he planted a bomb in the synagogue, law enforcement officials said.

According to Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the Dallas field office, the suspect, who died in the incident when an FBI hostage rescue team entered the synagogue on Sunday, has been identified as Malik Faisal Akram, 44 years old, a British citizen.

“At this time, there is no indication that other individuals are involved,” DeSarno said in a statement.

President Joe Biden said Sunday that he was briefed by Attorney General Merrick Garland about the case.

“This is an act of terrorism,” Biden told reporters.

Biden said the suspect had only been in the country for a few weeks, spending at least one night in a homeless shelter. He said the suspect was armed with a gun he allegedly bought on the street, but investigators found no evidence that he was in possession of explosives.

The ordeal unfolds as members of the Cytron-Walker’s herd in horror watch a Facebook Live broadcast of the service that suddenly turns into a 10-hour life-threatening incident and ends in flashbangs. and gunfire when an elite FBI hostage rescue team broke into the temple and saved the hostages.

The gunman is believed to have died in the confrontation. Officials declined to say whether Akram was shot dead by the FBI’s hostage rescue team or died of self-inflicted wounds.

“I’m so grateful we succeeded. I’m so grateful to be alive,” Cytron-Walker wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page on Sunday morning.

The rabbi, affectionately known by parishioners as Rabbi Charlie, thanked friends and strangers across the country for “all his prayers and prayers and love and support. He added a special thanks to the law enforcement officers and first responders “who took care of us” and without further explanation he said he appreciated” all the courses. Security training helped save us. “

“I am grateful for my family,” Cytron-Walker wrote. “I am grateful to the CBI Community (Congregation Beth Israel), the Jewish Community, the Human Community.”

The hostage-taking began around 10:40 a.m. Saturday.

Olivia Zelling and Stacey Silverman said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​on Sunday that they were both watching Live feeds on Facebook as the service switched from prayer to panic.

Silverman said her mind was immediately filled with fear that she was witnessing a repeat of the 2018 anti-Semitic mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the shootings that caused her death. died in 2019 at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego.

“I was absolutely terrified,” Silverman said.

While the live stream does not contain an ongoing hostage scene, it does contain audio of the suspect appearing to be speaking to hostage negotiators. At one point, according to part of the broadcast received by Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the suspect is heard saying, “I’ve got these prisoners” and “I’m dying.”

When Akram was supposed to be speaking, the broadcast only showed a screen with written instructions about the silent prayer and the words, “Lord, protect my words from evil and my lips will not deceive. Before those who slander me, I will keep my tongue tight; I will practice humility.”

Silverman said of the suspect: “He was a mouthful. He swore. He spoke anti-Semitic words.” “He was talking about Israel, Palestine, Islam and that he had a gun. He implied that he had a bomb in his backpack and that he could, you know, drop it. at any time. It was horrifying.”

Zelling said on “GMA” that she and her family are close friends with Cytron-Walker.

“Rabbi Charlie was at his core, an incredibly kind and holy man,” Zelling said. “His presence had a profound impact on my life.”

Silverman said that while she worries about the rise of anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish communities across the country, she said, “in our hearts, you know, We know it can happen here.”

“I feel like it’s going to take a long time for this congregation to heal because you don’t know who’s going to come near your building next,” Silverman said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen because it’s so common right now. We know it could happen again. It’s horrifying.”

The motive for the incident is under investigation. DeSarno said the FBI’s Evidence Response Team was processing evidence at the synagogue Sunday, and the office’s Joint North Texas Terrorism Task Force, which is investigating the leaders in the case, DeSarno said. know in his statement.

DeSarno said the FBI’s Shooting Incident Review Team “will conduct a thorough, factual, and objective investigation of the events.”

During the standoff, it was not clear to what extent the hostage-taker was armed, authorities said. The suspect was carrying a backpack and said he was in possession of explosives. Law enforcement officials would not say at a news conference whether he actually had explosives.

Authorities also declined to publicly confirm the hostage-taker’s claims. Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News he is demanding the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is being held at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth.

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist with alleged ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, was sentenced to 86 years in prison after she was convicted in 2010 for assault and attempted murder. An American soldier and members of the American team were sent to question her in 2008.

Investigators have not yet commented on the relationship between Siddiqui and the church hostage.

ABC News’ Meredith Deliso, Aaron Katersky and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

https://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-rabbi-grateful-alive-deadly-synagogue-hostage-standoff/story?id=82294717 Texas rabbi ‘grateful to be alive’ after identifying synagogue hostage suspect

Emma Bowman

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