The attacker in the Texas synagogue did not appear threatening or suspicious, rabbis say

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) – An armed man took four people hostage during a 10-hour break in a synagogue in Texas had spent time in homeless shelters in the two weeks leading up to the attack and was put off by one of someone he seemed to know.

Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen whom authorities identified as the hostage-taker, was taken to the downtown Dallas shelter on Jan. 2 by a man who hugged him and had conversations with him, said Wayne Walker, CEO. and pastor at OurCalling, which provides services to the homeless.

“He was handed over by someone who looked like he had an affair with him,” said Walker, who said they had handed over photos and videos to the FBI.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told ” CBS Tomorrow “ that he would shut Akram in Congregation Beth Israel Saturday morning because he seemed to need shelter. The synagogue is located in Colleyville, a city of about 26,000 people located 48 miles northwest of Dallas.

Cytron-Walker said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first, but later heard a gun click while praying.

The rabbi and three other men attended the service, which was livestreamed when they were taken hostage. The first hostage was released shortly before 5 p.m. Cytron-Walker and two others escaped around 9 p.m., when Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the gunman.

“The exit was not too far away,” Cytron-Walker said. “I asked them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman and I went to the door. And all three of us were able to get out without a shot being fired.”

Akram was killed after the hostages ran out. Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.

Video of the standoff’s end from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out of a door of the synagogue, and saw a man with a gun open the same door just seconds later before turning around and closing it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard.

The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the trial “a terrorism-related issue targeting Jewish community” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram repeatedly spoke during negotiations about a prisoner serving an 86-year prison sentence in the United States. “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”

Akram could be heard arguing over a Facebook livestream of the services and demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al-Qaeda, who was convicted of attempting to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.

“The last hour or so of the standoff, he did not get what he wanted. It did not look good. It did not sound good. We were horrified,” Cytron-Walker told CBS Mornings.

At a church service Monday night at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “wishes and kindness and compassion” has been overwhelming.

“Thank you for all the compassion, from the bottom of my heart,” Cytron-Walker said.

“While very few of us are okay right now, we’ll get through this,” he said.

The investigation extended to England, where police in Manchester announced late Sunday that two teenagers had been remanded in custody in connection with the showdown. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests, but did not say whether the couple faced any charges.

President Joe Biden called the episode a terrorist act. Biden spoke to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, saying Akram allegedly bought a weapon on the street.

Federal investigators believe Akram bought the gun, which was used for the hostage-taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the United States at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.

Akram arrived in the United States on a tourist visa from the United Kingdom, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. The London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its anti-terror police were in touch with the US authorities about the incident.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her US counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “full support” from UK police and security services in the investigation.

After staying at the OurCalling facility on Jan. 2, he lived at another homeless shelter in Dallas.

A spokeswoman for the FBI said late Monday night that they had no information they could confirm regarding Akram’s stay at the OurCalling facility. The agency has said there were no early signs that others were involved in the hostage-taking.

Akram stayed three nights between Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 at Union Gospel Mission Dallas, Homeless Shelter Executive Director Bruce Butler told CNN. According to their records, Akram left there for the last time on January 13 – two days before he took the hostages to the synagogue.

Akram used his phone during the negotiations to communicate with non-law enforcement officials, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not clear why Akram chose the synagogue, even though the prison where Siddiqui is serving his sentence is located in Fort Worth.

A Texas lawyer representing Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connection to Akram.

“She said from the beginning when she was convicted that she does not want violence to be carried out in her name and she does not tolerate any kind of violence,” said lawyer Marwa Elbially.

Akram, which was called Faisal by his family, was from Blackburn, an industrial town in the north-west of England. His family said he had “a bit of a mental problem.”

“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, be it a Jew, Christian or Muslim, etc. is wrong and should always be condemned,” wrote his brother, Gulbar Akram.

Stems reported from Dallas and Tucker reported from Washington, DC. Also Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin contributed to this report; Michael Balsamo in Washington; Colleen Long of Philadelphia; Elliot Spagat of San Diego; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. Sisak in New York; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tenn .; Issac Scharf in Jerusalem; and Danica Church in London.


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