Rabbi threw chair at gunman to escape Texas synagogue stand-off

Hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram from Blackburn was shot dead when the FBI stormed the synagogue on Saturday.

Pa Reporters
Monday 17 January 2022 17:04
Law enforcement teams at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue while conducting SWAT operations in Colleyville, Texas (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
Law enforcement teams at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue while conducting SWAT operations in Colleyville, Texas (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

The rabbi caught up in the Texas synagogue stand-off has described how he escaped by throwing a chair at the British gunman holding him hostage.

Malik Faisal Akram, originally from Blackburn in Lancashire, was shot dead when the FBI stormed Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville on Saturday night.

Moments before, three “terrified” hostages had managed to escape from the building as the 44-year-old’s behaviour became more erratic.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS: “The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted.

“He was getting… it didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good.

“We were very… we were terrified.

“And when I saw an opportunity where he wasn’t in a good position I asked, made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me that they were ready to go.

“The exit wasn’t too far away. I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”

It is not yet clear how Akram, who had a criminal record in the UK, was able to travel to the US two weeks ago.

According to reports, he stayed at a homeless shelter and is believed to have bought a gun on the street before taking four people hostage at the synagogue on Saturday, one of whom was released after around six hours.

At one point he demanded the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of trying to kill US army officers in Afghanistan, and is in prison in Texas.

US President Joe Biden branded the incident “an act of terror” and UK police are working with authorities in America on the investigation.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had spoken to her US counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “the full support” of the UK police and security services in the investigation.

Two teenagers have been arrested in the UK as part of the inquiry, but Greater Manchester Police have refused to reveal what they have been detained on suspicion of, their ages or genders.

The FBI in Dallas had earlier said there was nothing to suggest a wider terror plot.

Akram’s family said they were “absolutely devastated” by what had happened and “do not condone any of his actions”, according to a statement that was shared on the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page.

The statement, attributed to Akram’s brother, Gulbar, who said he had been involved in negotiating from the UK with his sibling during the ordeal, added that the hostage-taker “was suffering from mental health issues”.

Condemning what had happened, the statement from Akram’s family said: “We would like to say that we as a family do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologise wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident.”

US officials believe Akram had a visa, arrived at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York around two weeks ago and bought the handgun used in the incident.

In an update to reporters on Sunday, Mr Biden said that while he did not have all the details, it was believed Akram had “got the weapons on the street”, adding: “He purchased them when he landed.”

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, the Home Secretary said that “protective security” for the Jewish community in the UK was part of the response to the incident.

She told the House of Commons: “We are working with the FBI, in fact we have been since the incident took place, and there’s a great deal of intelligence-sharing and work taking place on this.

“Of course, when it comes to our own domestic homeland, there are a range of measures that are being undertaken right now including protective security for the Jewish community, and this is a live investigation so I am unable to speak about the specifics.”

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