After an 11-hour standoff, an FBI Hostage Rescue Team stormed Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday night (Texas time) to free three remaining hostages held by a gunman who had entered the synagogue during the Shabbat morning service.
The gunman was identified by the FBI as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, on Sunday. Akram is reportedly from Blackburn, located north of Manchester.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the spiritual leader of the synagogue, and three others had been held at gunpoint since earlier in the day when the armed man entered the sanctuary and threatened to kill everyone.
The service was being live-streamed on Zoom and the gunman could be heard rambling about how he did not plan to leave the synagogue alive. "If anyone tries to enter this building, I’m telling you… everyone will die," he was heard saying. "I'm going to die. Don't cry about me," the man repeated over and over.
One hostage was released unharmed six hours later. The hostage-taker was pronounced dead after security forces stormed the synagogue.
The gunman demanded the release of Pakistani Al-Qaeda-affiliated Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence for multiple felonies, including trying to kill US Army officers. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the suspect "claims he and his sister will be going to Jannah" after they meet with one another.
Authorities have yet to definitively identify the man or clarify how he died, nor if any of the supposed weapons had been recovered.
Local reporters said they heard the sound of explosions, possibly flashbangs, and the sound of gunfire shortly before Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the crisis was over.
"Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe," Abbott said on Twitter. The FBI said they have confirmed the identity of the gunman but said they would not yet disclose it. The FBI declined to confirm the cause of his death, saying it was still under investigation.
The gunman demanded to meet with Aafia in negotiations with the FBI as well as have her released from a federal medical facility where she is being held, not far from the site of the hostage situation.
According to CNN, the gunman spoke to a New York-based rabbi earlier in the day on the phone and told him that he was doing this because Aafia was framed.
He also threatened that he had bombs placed at the scene and surrounding the synagogue, but this was not confirmed by law enforcement. Police nevertheless cleared the periphery, not letting anyone within a quarter-mile radius of the synagogue.
Colleyville Police first warned the public of the situation at 11:30 a.m. local time.
We are currently conducting SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd. All residents in the immediate area are being evacuated. Please avoid the area.— Colleyville Police (@ColleyvillePD) January 15, 2022
BREAKING: Gunman holding hostages at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas— BNO News (@BNONews) January 15, 2022
The synagogue had been live-streaming its Shabbat services in an effort to prevent crowding amid the coronavirus pandemic. The stream continued for several minutes during which the gunman could be heard speaking before it was cut off. It is unclear who ended the live stream.
CEO of the Secure Community Network Michael Masters said that the network's intelligence analysts picked up on the situation soon after it started based on the live stream and comments on social media.
Barry Klompus, 63, a member of the congregation since it opened in 1999, said he was alerted to the situation by another member and quickly turned to the live feed until it was cut off.
"It was horrible listening and watching, and it's that much more horrible not knowing," Klompus said in a telephone interview.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker is one of four people being held hostage inside Congregation Beth Israel. The father of two is the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi. His site bio says he “remains completely in love with Adena Cytron-Walker,” his wife. pic.twitter.com/lgq3n5y3F7— Melissa Weiss (@melissaeweiss) January 15, 2022
The Beth Israel congregation underwent security training a few months ago.
Police and the FBI gathered at a nearby school where they were preparing in tactical gear. An FBI SWAT team was on the scene and police asked the public to stay indoors.
A White House official said that they were monitoring the situation and President Joe Biden and senior members of national security teams were receiving regular updates.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted, saying that "the Texas Dept. of Public Safety is on the scene of the tense hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas. They are working with local and federal teams to achieve the best and safest outcome." He added that he was closely monitoring the situation.
Consul General of Israel to the Southwest Livia Link tweeted that she was also on the way to the scene and receiving updates.
I'm on my way to the area as we are closely monitoring and receiving updates on the developing situation in Colleyville, Texas and am here standing with the congregation at this difficult time. My heart and my prayers are with the Jewish community today.— Livia Link (@LiviaLinkRaviv) January 15, 2022
The Beth Israel congregation was officially established on July 18, 1999, with 25 member families and affiliation with the Union of Reform Judaism. Services were held in a rented church facility on Industrial Blvd. in Colleyville, and the religious school opened under the direction of Sue Feingold with 75 children enrolled.
The congregation was established by a group of families that had relocated from other areas in the country.
LAPD tweeted that it had increased patrols around LA's synagogues in order to provide better protection for their Jews, and the Dallas police made a similar announcement soon after.
We’re closely following a hostage situation that is taking place at a synagogue in Colleyville, TX. We’re working with our federal partners, increasing patrols around synagogues in LA as a precautionary measure, and conducting community outreach to ensure the safety of Angelenos. https://t.co/ASQ9hRChVH— LAPD HQ (@LAPDHQ) January 15, 2022
This is a developing story.