IssuesLocal NewsStatewide NewsRabbi, Congregants Emerge Unscathed from Hostage Situation at Colleyville Synagogue

The 11-hour standoff ended when law enforcement breached the building, killing the suspect, after the hostages managed to escape.
January 17, 2022
Malik Faisal Akram, a British national, entered a Colleyville synagogue mid-Saturday morning, taking its congregants hostage. Nearly 11 hours later, he left in a body bag.

His captives — four members of the Congregation Beth Israel, including the shul’s rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker — each made it out alive and unharmed.

“I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support, all of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us, all of the security training that helped save us,” Cytron-Walker wrote on Facebook after the hostage situation ended. “I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community. I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.”

The rabbi was lauded by law enforcement for his “calm and collected” presence throughout the situation.

A specialized Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) unit comprising 60 to 70 agents flown in from Quantico, breached the synagogue just after 9:00 p.m. Saturday evening. Sounds of an explosion followed by gunshots were heard at the scene.

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Video captured by WFAA shows just before the authorities breached the synagogue what appears to be three individuals escaping from the building, followed by a figure holding a pistol. After the apparent escapees turned the building’s corner, the armed individual poked himself out of the doorway and then slipped back in.

Right after, armed law enforcement individuals breach the shul.

Cytron-Walker said Monday that he threw a chair at Akram, which gave the hostages a window to escape.

That was the climax of a half-day-long standoff between law enforcement and the assailant.

Akram posed as a homeless man, gaining entry to the shul. Police were alerted at 10:41 a.m. and responded to the scene, setting a perimeter as the regional SWAT team arrived. The Colleyville Police Department and FBI Dallas officials gained contact with Akram and maintained hostage negotiation contact. Other local and state law enforcement provided backup.

The first few hours of the standoff could be heard on the synagogue’s Facebook Livestream that was running for the ongoing service. Upwards of 5,000 people tuned into that livestream before it was shut down just before 2 p.m. Throughout the stream, Akram could be heard yelling at someone, seemingly on a cell phone, to “get his sister on the phone.” Before the stream ended, Akram was heard saying “I’m surrounded and I’m going to die.”

The “sister” to whom he was referring is convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently serving an 86-year sentence in a nearby women’s prison in Fort Worth for firing at American troops in 2008.

At that time, it was believed that the attacker was Siddiqui’s brother, Muhammed, who lives in Houston. However, an attorney for the Siddiqui family said it was not Muhammed, and that he was at home in Houston. That was confirmed true Sunday morning when the FBI released Akram’s identity.

Shortly after 5:00 p.m., one hostage was released, unharmed, while the others remained. On the livestream earlier in the day, Akram could be heard saying that one of the hostages had low blood sugar. It is not clear whether this was the person released.

As a precautionary measure, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced he deployed additional security to the area’s synagogues.

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller said during the post-situation press conference, “This was a success due to the partnerships we have with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners. We’ve had at least 200 law enforcement personnel throughout the day here.”

It was heard on the livestream that the assailant claimed he had a firearm and explosives, but neither statement has been confirmed by the FBI.

“It’s very likely this would’ve ended very badly early in the day had we not had consistent professional negotiation with the subject,” said FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno.

Negotiators had prolonged contact with Akram interspersed with periods of radio silence, according to the agent. “Like what happens with hostage negotiations sometimes, the relationship between the negotiator and the hostage-taker ebbed and flowed a little bit and sometimes got intense, but I’m so proud of these negotiators.”

While authorities did not say what caused them to act when they did, Cytron-Walker later said that Akram became increasingly hostile during the last hour of the situation.

Afterward, DeSarno said, “We do believe from our engagement with the subject that he was singularly focused on one issue — that it was not specifically related to the Jewish community.”

At the time Akram’s name was released Sunday morning, the FBI said it did not believe any other individuals were involved with the act of terrorism. But around 5:30 p.m., the Greater Manchester Police, of the United Kingdom, announced the arrests of two teenagers in connection with the Colleyville incident, and the pair will remain in custody for questioning.

Then late Sunday evening, the FBI changed its tune a bit, stating, “This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

It’s been reported that Akram arrived in the U.S. two weeks ago, flying into New York’s JFK International Airport.

“[We] join others in expressing relief and joy at the successful conclusion of the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas. Governor Abbott has announced that all hostages have left the Synagogue and are unharmed,” said the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas in a statement after the threat was neutralized.

Governor Greg Abbott announced the standoff’s successful resolution and later added that Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reached out “to thank law enforcement in Texas & the U.S. for concluding the synagogue standoff with all hostages safe.”

President Joe Biden denounced the incident as an “act of terror.”

“We strongly condemn the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. This antisemitic attack against a house of worship is unacceptable,” said Council on American-Islamic Relations-Houston (CAIR) board chair John Floyd.

CAIR, an Islamic activist group involved in the “Free Siddiqui” movement, was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2009 Holy Land Foundation (HLF) case — a case in which HLF and its handlers were convicted of providing material support to the terrorist group Hamas.

The list of unindicted co-conspirators was not sealed, an error which a court later ruled to be a violation of the due process rights of the named organizations.

Akram’s connection to Siddiqui is not yet known, but the convicted terrorist is treated as a celebrity among certain cadres of Islamic extremists. Since her detainment, a whole movement has sprung up advocating for her release.

A report from the UK’s Daily Mail states that Akram was banned from a court in his hometown of Blackburn 20 years ago for saying he wished he had been a part of 9/11.

“This is a wake-up call that radical Islamic terror is the biggest threat we face, not school mothers criticizing [critical race theory],” said Jeff Addicott to The Texan.

Addicott is a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel and law professor at St. Mary’s University who specializes in national security and terrorism law.

“Terrorism is a tactic, and the tactic is used by radical Islamic extremists, right-wing extremists like Timothy McVeigh, left-wing extremists, like Ted Kaczynski and others,” Addicott added. “They’re going there to terrorize people, not to commit robbery or something. They’re trying to create fear and terror.”

“In every case of terrorism, even if it’s an individual acting alone, somebody knows about it,” he concluded.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.