The FBI is treating last week’s hostage stand-off at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas as an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community.
FBI special agent Matthew DeSarno said on Friday that the attack was committed by “a terrorist exposing an antisemitic worldview” who “repeatedly demanded the United States release a convicted Al-Qaeda terrorist”.
That was a change from the agency’s previous claim that it believed the attacker, 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, was motivated by a “single issue... not specifically related to the Jewish community”.
Jewish leaders and US politicians criticised that statement, with Republican senator Marsha Blackburn accusing the FBI of “failing Jewish Americans”.
Mr DeSarno said: “We recognise that the Jewish community in particular has suffered violence and faces very real threats from across the hate spectrum, from domestic violent extremists to foreign terrorist organisations. And because of that, the FBI considers the enduring threats to the community to be among our very highest priorities.”
Four people were held hostage for more than 10 hours on 15 January at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, on the outskirts of Fort Worth, with Akram demanding the release of a prisoner held at a nearby air base.
Though officials have not named the prisoner, reports suggest it was Aafia Siddiqui, a US-educated Pakistani neuroscientist sometimes known as “Lady Al-Qaeda” who was the first and only woman on the FBI’s “seeking information – terrorism” list and was labelled “kill or capture” by the CIA.
Siddiqui was accused by the US of being an Al-Qaeda agent but never actually convicted of terrorism offences, instead being convicted of attempting to murder US troops in Afghanistan with an terrorism as an aggravating factor in her sentence.
British authorities have arrested two men in England as part of their investigation. MI5 had previously branded Akram, a divorced father of six from Blackburn, a “subject of interest” before deciding that he posed no terror threat.
On Thursday FBI director Christopher Wray addressed the criticism of the agency, saying: “Let me be clear and blunt, the FBI is and has been treating Saturday’s events as an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community...
“This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional; it was symbolic, and we’re not going to tolerate antisemitism in this country.”
According to one of the hostages, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, Akram made it clear that he targeted a synagogue because he believed “America would do more to save Jews than it would for anyone else”.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker said: “I was thinking, this guy really believes that Jews control the world.”
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