By: Hannah Stoughton
Jan 15th, 2022: A British man named Malik Akram sieged a Texas synagogue on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, holding 4 members hostage before being shot by the FBI.
In a 10-hour siege in Colleyville, Texas, Akram held 4 members of Congregation Beth Israel hostage, including a rabbi, with a firearm. The siege happened during a live-streamed service, where the suspect could be heard screaming about dying and demanding that a woman he claimed to be his sister be contacted via cellphone. Within minutes the area was evacuated, and citizens were told to keep away from the synagogue at all costs.
Over 200 law enforcement officials arrived at the scene throughout the day, including FBI agents and a team of hostage negotiators from Quantico, VA. After vast amounts of negotiation, the first hostage was released around 5 p.m. unharmed.
According to hostages, the gunman became belligerent and began acting as if he was having a meltdown within the last few hours of negotiation. He screamed antisemitic remarks and obscenities about Jewish people. Akram was heard saying “I’m setting a precedent,” regarding the terrorism against the synagogue. He is also said to have prayed about the attack for years beforehand, praying for the success of the tirade.
“It’s very likely this situation would have ended very badly early on in the day had we not had professional, consistent negotiation with the subject,” said Matthew DeSarno, head of the FBI
office in Dallas, TX. The remaining 3 subjects escaped around 9 p.m. the same day, all unharmed.
One of the hostages was lead rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. Walker was able to act as a unifying presence for everyone involved and is responsible for the escape of the remaining hostages. Upon recognizing the opportunity, he was able to convince the other hostages to run to a nearby exit as he threw a chair, the nearest weapon, directly at Akram, creating enough of a distraction to run to the exit.
In a Facebook post made by Walker, he says that he is thankful for the way the situation ended. “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,” he said in a Facebook post on Sunday morning. “I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.”
Walker also credits his and others’ survival to the negotiators and previous training from the FBI. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”
After the escape of the final hostages, law enforcement was able to enter the synagogue and confront the gunman, where ultimately, he was shot and killed.
While the threat at the time was neutralized, the FBI’s North Texas agency is following leads to investigate anyone who may have been in cohorts with Akram. “At this time, there is no
indication that other individuals are involved,” the FBI said in a statement. However, there is suspicion surrounding the “sister” that Akram was demanding to speak to. This “sister” has no
relation to Akram, but they are paired together. Akram could be heard saying that he and his sister will go to Jannah, the Muslim version of Heaven, together once they are reunited. She currently sits in U.S. federal custody after partaking in terroristic events in Afghanistan.
In an official statement, the FBI has called this attack an act of terrorism and antisemitism. The Director of the FBI Christopher Wray says that this attack is targeted at the Jewish community and not a random occurrence as previously thought. “It was intentional, it was symbolic and we’re not going to tolerate antisemitism in this country,” Wray said.
The FBI continues to investigate all of Akram’s contacts globally and is sweeping through the area for another potential threat to the synagogue. “I do not have any information right now that indicates that this is part of any kind of ongoing threat,” DeSarno said. “We’ll continue to investigate the hostage-taker. We’ll continue to investigate his contacts. Our investigation will have a global reach.”