FBI is working to determine where Texas synagogue hostage-taker acquired his gun, official says

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FBI is working to determine where Texas synagogue hostage-taker acquired his gun, official says
© ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP via Getty Images Police vehicles sit outside of Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 16, a day after the hostage situation.

The FBI is working to fill a “primary gap” in its investigation into the Colleyville, Texas, hostage standoff: finding out how the hostage-taker acquired his gun, FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said during a Friday news conference.

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“We are actively focused on that piece of the investigation,” DeSarno said. He added US officials are also working with their international counterparts in various countries to learn more about the suspect’s background.

The man who authorities say took the four hostages Saturday, died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to medical examiner records released Friday.

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Malik Faisal Akram’s manner of death was ruled a homicide, a forensic classification which indicates a death was caused by another person. The time of death was 9:22 p.m. Saturday, Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office records show.

Akram, a 44-year-old British national, held four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in an 11-hour standoff, the FBI said. An FBI team killed Akram after one hostage was released and three escaped from the synagogue just outside Dallas-Fort Worth, officials said.

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The three hostages escaped at the same time hostage rescue agents approached the building in what DeSarno described as “two near-simultaneous plans of action.”

He said he made the decision to send tactical agents in “confidently” on Saturday night, and felt he had “good situational awareness” because of the help authorities were receiving from inside the synagogue and the “visibility into what was happening” he got from the negotiation team.

DeSarno said he authorized agents to attempt the rescue after negotiations with Akram took an unproductive turn, with him becoming less communicative, more combative and issuing ultimatums and deadlines to the FBI. As officials made their assessment, the hostages came to a similar conclusion, DeSarno said.

After encountering the hostages running from one exit of the synagogue, the agents continued into the building, DeSarno said, adding “Akram’s death was a result of the deadly force employed by the FBI.”

The preliminary information released by the medical examiner indicated an autopsy report for Akram had not yet been finalized. The office has up to 90 days to complete its findings, a spokesperson for the office said.

FBI treating this as hate crime and terrorism

The FBI is treating the standoff as “both a hate crime and an act of terrorism,” DeSarno said Friday, adding Akram committed a federal hate crime “when he forcibly kidnapped four hostages while they exercised their right to worship.”

“This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional. It was symbolic, and we’re not going to tolerate anti-Semitism in this country,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday at a virtual event hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. “We recognize that the Jewish community in particular has suffered violence and faces very real threats from, really, across the hate spectrum.”

Investigators believe Akram was motivated in part by a desire to see the release of convicted extremist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year federal prison sentence in Fort Worth, they’ve said. She was not involved in the Colleyville standoff, her attorney said.

DeSarno said Friday he believes Congregation Beth Israel was targeted because it is the closest synagogue to where the suspect believed the convicted extremist was being housed.

When the suspect demanded the release of a convicted extremist, his actions “clearly met the definition of terrorism,” DeSarno said.

UK counterterrorism investigators are helping US authorities look into the incident. Two men were arrested in the British cities of Birmingham and Manchester on Thursday morning as part of the investigation, and were held for questioning, Greater Manchester Police said without elaborating.

Akram arrived in the United States in late December via New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, a US law enforcement source familiar with the investigation told CNN.

Akram had been known to UK security services and had been the subject of a brief investigation in 2020, a UK official told CNN on Tuesday. The investigation was closed when authorities determined Akram to no longer be a threat.

The incident has put Jewish communities across the United States on edge. Attacks on Jewish people have been on the rise, the Anti-Defamation League warns. And while the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involve harassment and vandalism, assaults have also happened, with at least six turning deadly since 2016, including at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

Akram didn’t initially exhibit suspicious behavior, rabbi says

Akram took the hostages at Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday morning, when people had gathered to participate in a Sabbath service.

Akram did not exhibit suspicious behavior when he first knocked on the door, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said Thursday at the ADL virtual event where Wray also spoke.

Cytron-Walker, who was one of four congregation members taken hostage, said Akram told him he had been out walking in the cold weather and inquired whether the synagogue had a night shelter.

“He looked like he was telling the truth,” Cytron-Walker said. “There were no initial red flags. So, we opened the door.”

Cytron-Walker has said he and three others were taken hostage at gunpoint after the rabbi started leading prayers. The first demand made by the suspect was to speak with a prominent rabbi in New York, Cytron-Walker said Thursday.

The hostage-taker spoke with the New York rabbi, demanding that person’s assistance in securing Siddiqui’s release, two officials briefed on the investigation previously told CNN.

Cytron-Walker said the hostage-taker targeted his congregation because he believed the anti-Semitic “notion that Jews are more important in his mind than everyone else, and that America would do more to save Jews than it would for anyone else.

“And that’s why he specifically targeted a synagogue,” Cytron-Walker said Thursday.

Akram “said point-blank he chose the synagogue because ‘Jews control the world. Jews control the media. Jews control the banks,'” Jeffrey Cohen, one of the hostages and vice president of the synagogue’s board of trustees, told CNN previously.

In addition to crediting security training he received before the incident, Cytron-Walker told audience members at Thursday’s ADL event establishing relationships with local law enforcement is key to handling a crisis.

“I was literally texting and emailing in small moments when I could with the Colleyville police chief, because I had his cell phone, because those relationships were there,” he said.

Cytron-Walker, one of the final three hostages remaining after one was released, has said he eventually threw a chair at Akram after telling the two others to run. The three hostages escaped; an FBI team moved in, and Akram was killed, authorities said.

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