A man entered a Texas synagogue during Shabbos services today and took hostages to the horror of congregation members watching on a livestream, reportedly claiming during the ensuing 12-hour standoff that he was motivated by the local incarceration of an al-Qaeda terrorist.
Colleyville Police said they were called to Congregation Beth Israel in the Dallas suburb today at 10:41 a.m. and “observed an emergency situation that warranted evacuation of the surrounding areas and an external perimeter was established.”
FBI’s Dallas Field Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the North Tarrant Regional SWAT Team were among the agencies on scene.
Three hostages were left in the synagogue after one man was released shortly after 5 p.m. local time; police said there were no known injuries and all the hostages were adults.
At 9:55 p.m., Colleyville Police tweeted, “The SWAT situation in Colleyville is resolved and all hostages are safe. We continue to work in partnership with the FBI to finalize all details.” The FBI’s hostage rescue team flew to the area from Washington, D.C., to lead the operation to neutralize the threat and rescue the hostages.
FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno confirmed that “the hostage taker is deceased” and said at a late-night press conference that there was not an indication that the incident was part of a continuing threat but that the investigation would have international reach.
DeSarno said officials had identified the suspect but would not release his name at this time. The hostage-taker was “specifically focused on one issue that was not specific to the Jewish community,” he said without elaborating.
The FBI later identified the suspect as British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, 44.
DeSarno said the negotiation team had a “high frequency and duration of contact” with the suspect over the course of the standoff and praised their work for ensuring the safety of the hostages.
Congregation Beth Israel has about 150 families, and most have not been attending in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were watching Shabbos services on livestream as the crisis unfolded.
A witness who had been watching the livestream during the service told CNN tonight that the hostage-taker claimed to have targeted the synagogue because he traveled to the area and it was closest to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and said he was making antisemitic remarks while claiming that his weapons included a bomb. The suspect reportedly claimed to have been a brother of Aafia Siddiqui, the U.S.-educated Pakistani neuroscientist revered in jihadist circles who is serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth. She is frequently referred to as a “sister” in Islamist extremist content out of ideological solidarity.
“We strongly condemn the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX,” Siddiqui’s lawyer, Marwa Elbially, said in a statement. “We implore the hostage taker to immediately release all hostages and turn himself in… we want to verify that the perpetrator is NOT Dr. Aafia’s brother who is a respected architect and member of the community.”
ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt called the incident “a painful reminder of the fact that synagogues in America continue to be at risk for terrorist attacks.”
“There is no doubt, given what we know so far, that the hostage-taker chose his target carefully. We urge law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate the role antisemitism may have played in motivating the suspect,” he said, stressing that “the attack is a reminder that hardened conspiratorial antisemitism is a core tenet of extremists across the spectrum including radical Islamists.”
“Though the hostages have been rescued, we urge continued vigilance in securing synagogues and all Jewish institutions in the wake of this attack,” Greenblatt continued. “The risks remain high in light of the historic level of antisemitism across the country and the proliferation of anti-Jewish hate online. ADL offices across the country will be reaching out to local law enforcement in the coming days to ensure that steps are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community.”
President Biden released a statement praising the “tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages.”
“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker,” Biden added. “But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud.”
This story was updated with suspect information on 1/16/21