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Monday May 16, 2022

Texas synagogue: Hostages freed as British man seeking Aafia’s release killed

By News Report
January 17, 2022
Texas synagogue: Hostages freed as British man seeking Aafia’s release killed

COLLEYVILLE, Texas: All four people taken hostage in a more than 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue have been freed unharmed, police said late on Saturday, and their suspected captor is dead.

Authorities identified 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram as the man who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue for 10 hours before an FBI SWAT team stormed the building, ending a tense standoff that President Joe Biden called “an act of terror,” foreign media reported on Sunday.

Akram was shot and killed after the last of the hostages got out at around 9 pm on Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel near Fort Worth. In a statement, the FBI said there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but it didn’t provide a possible motive.

Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Pakistani neuroscientist of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.

The FBI and police spokeswomen declined to answer questions on Saturday night about who shot Akram when the standoff ended.

ABC News reported that the hostage-taker was armed and had claimed to have bombs in unknown locations. That was not confirmed by police although Colleyville police chief Michael Miller said that "bomb techs are clearing the scene." Quoting a US official briefed on the matter, ABC reported the man was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui.

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

“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 kinds of acts.”

Biden said the suspect was able to purchase weapons on the street and may have only been in the country a few weeks. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to questions Sunday about Akram’s immigration status and history. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with US authorities about the incident.

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.” Law enforcement officials who were not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke on the condition of anonymity earlier said the hostage-taker demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties with al-Qaeda, who is in a federal prison in Texas.

He also said he wanted to be able to speak with her, according to the officials, one of whom confirmed that the hostage-taker was a British national.

A rabbi in the New York City received a call from the rabbi believed to be held hostage in the synagogue to demand Siddiqui’s release, a law enforcement official said. The New York rabbi then called 911.

Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 am and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighbourhood soon after that, FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said. Saturday’s services were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2 pm, the man said, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut out. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.

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 also is 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.”

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