WASHINGTON: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Sunday identified the Texas synagogue hostage-taker as a 44-year-old British citizen, Malik Faisal Akram, adding that apparently he was acting alone.
The crisis at the Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, ended on Saturday night when FBI agents raided the building, rescued all four hostages and killed the captor.
“Special Agent in-charge Mathew DeSarno of the FBI Field Office, Dallas, confirmed the identity of the Colleyville, Texas, hostage-taker as British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, 44,” said a brief statement issued by the Colleyville police.
In London, the slain gunman’s family issued a statement, saying: “We are absolutely devastated as a family” but “we can’t say much now as there is an ongoing FBI investigation”.
Malik’s brother Gulbar, who signed the statement, said 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”.
The Colleyville police said the FBI’s Evidence Response Team will continue processing evidence at the synagogue but “at this time, there is no indication that other individuals are involved”.
The police said the FBI’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force, which included member agencies from across the region, would continue to follow investigative leads and the FBI shooting incident review team would “conduct a thorough, factual and objective investigation of the events”.
In an earlier statement, the FBI had said that all four hostages were “unharmed, and the hostage-taking is not part of an ongoing threat”. The hostages included the synagogue’s rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker.
“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about 20 minutes after a large bang and gunfire were heard from the direction of the synagogue.
At 9pm, the local police informed Colleyville citizens that the FBI bomb techs were going to “dispose some ordinances on the scene” at Beth Israel. “There may be some loud noises in the next few minutes. There is no need for concern,” the statement added.
At 9:55pm, the police issued another statement, saying that “the situation in Colleyville is resolved and all hostages are safe”.
Later at a news briefing, Special Agent DeSarno said the hostage-taker was “singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community”.
The FBI said their “negotiators were in near-constant communication with the captor before they decided to breach the synagogue”.
Soon afterwards, the local police confirmed that the captor, who earlier identified himself as Muhammad Siddiqui, was dead. During his negotiations with the FBI, the gunman also claimed that he was Aafia Siddiqui’s brother and demanded her release.
Dr Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American scientist, was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a New York court in 2010 for the attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan.
However, the attorney who represents Dr Siddiqui said “she has absolutely no involvement with” the hostage-taking and the perpetrator was not Siddiqui’s brother.
“She does not want any violence perpetrated against any human being, especially in her name,” Marwa Elbially told CNN by phone. “It obviously has nothing to do with Dr Siddiqui or her family.”
“Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr Siddiqui and her family,” Elbially said. “We implore you to immediately release the hostages and turn yourself in.”
The episode ended more than 12 hours after the suspect entered the Congregation Beth Israel as the synagogue was livestreaming its Sabbath morning service on Facebook. The livestream captured part of the incident before it was removed.
Two law enforcement officials told CNN that investigators believed the perpetrator might have been motivated by a desire to get Dr Siddiqui released.
At the suspect’s request, the rabbi of the congregation called a well-known rabbi in New York City. The alleged invader, who had no connection with the rabbi, told the priest that Dr Siddiqui was framed, and he wanted her released.
US-based Muslim advocacy group CAIR, and Free Dr Aafia Movement also condemned the hostage-taking and said that her brother, who lives in Houston, Texas, had nothing to do with the incident.
John Floyd, who heads the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a legal counsel for Dr Siddiqui’s brother said: “This anti-Semitic attack against a house of worship is unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community.”
They also said that they wanted to “make it very well known that the hostage-taker is NOT Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s brother, who is not even in the area where this horrible incident took place. Dr Aafia Siddiqui and her family strongly condemn this act and do not stand by the perpetrator”.
They said that Dr Siddiqui’s family had always stood firm in advocating for the release of their sister from incarceration by legal and non-violent means only.
Before the media reported the suspect’s death, CAIR and the Dr Siddiqui family’s legal counsel urged him to “immediately release the hostages and turn yourself in”.
The White House also issued a statement by President Joe Biden who pledged to “stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country”. “I am grateful to the tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages,” he said.
“We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community.”
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022