Suspect who died in synagogue hostage ordeal ID'd

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A Texas rabbi taken hostage with three members of his congregation by an armed man demanding the release of a convicted terrorist, posted a message on social media Sunday saying he is “grateful to be alive.”

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was leading Shabbat services at the Congregation Beth Israel in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville, Texas, on Saturday when a man interrupted the service and allegedly claimed he had planted bombs in the synagogue, law enforcement officials said.

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The suspect, who died in the incident when an FBI hostage rescue team breached the synagogue, was identified on Sunday as Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British citizen, according to Matthew DeSarno, the special agent in charge of the bureau’s Dallas field office.

“At this time, there is no indication that other individuals are involved,” DeSarno said in a statement.

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President Joe Biden said on Sunday that he’s been briefed on the incident by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“This was an act of terror,” Biden told reporters.

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Biden said the suspect had only been in the country for a couple of weeks, spending at least one night in a homeless shelter. He said the suspect was armed with a gun he allegedly purchased on the street, but investigators have found no evidence that he was in possession of explosives

The ordeal unfolded as members of Cytron-Walker’s flock watched in horror as a Facebook Live broadcast of the service suddenly turned into a life-threatening standoff that lasted 10 hours and ended with flashbangs and gunfire when an elite FBI hostage rescue team breached the temple and saved the hostages.

Suspect who died in synagogue hostage ordeal ID'd
© Brandon Wade/AP Police stand in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, Jan. 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas.

The alleged gunman died in the confrontation. Officials declined to say if Akram was fatally shot by the FBI hostage rescue team or died from a self-inflicted wound.

“I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive,” Cytron-Walker wrote in a message posted on his Facebook page Sunday morning.

The cleric, affectionately known to his congregants as Rabbi Charlie, thanked friends and strangers from across the country for “all the vigils and prayers and love and support. He added a special thanks to the law enforcement officers and first responders “who cared for us” and, without elaborating, said he was appreciative of “all of the security training that helped save us.”

“I am grateful for my family,” Cytron-Walker wrote. “I am grateful for the CBI (Congregation Beth Israel) Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community.”

The hostage-taking incident started about 10:40 a.m. on Saturday.

Olivia Zelling and Stacey Silverman said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Sunday that they were both watching the Facebook Live feed when the service went from prayer to panic.

Silverman said her mind was instantly flooded with fears that she was witnessing a repeat of the 2018 anti-Semitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the deadly 2019 shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue near San Diego.

“I was terrified,” Silverman said.

MORE: 8 men, 3 women killed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting mourned

While the live stream did not contain footage of the hostage-taking unfolding, it did include audio of the suspect apparently speaking to hostage negotiators. At one point, according to a portion of the broadcast obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the suspect is heard saying, “I’ve got these prisoners” and “I am going to die.”

MORE: Poway synagogue shooting survivors address gunman at sentencing

As Akram was allegedly speaking, the broadcast only showed a screen with written guidance on silent prayer and the words, “My God, guard my speech from evil and my lips from deception. Before those who slander me, I will hold my tongue; I will practice humility.”

“He was foul-mouthed. He was swearing. He was saying anti-Semitic tropes,” Silverman said of the suspect. “He was talking about Israel, Palestine, Islam, and that he had a gun. He implied he had a bomb in his backpack, and that he could, you know, let it loose at any minute. It was horrifying.”

Zelling said on “GMA” that she and her family are close friends of Cytron-Walker.

Suspect who died in synagogue hostage ordeal ID'd
© Brandon Wade/AP Police stand in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, Jan. 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas.

“Rabbi Charlie is at his core, an incredibly kind and holy man,” Zelling said. “His presence has made a profound impact on my life.”

Silverman said that while she has been alarmed about the rise in anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish communities throughout the nation, she said, “in the back of our minds, you know, we knew it could happen here.”

MORE: Jersey City shooting that left 6 dead was ‘targeted’ at Jewish deli: Officials

“I feel like it’s going to take a long time for this congregation to heal because you don’t know who next is going to approach your building,” Silverman said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen because it’s so prevalent right now. We know that it could happen again. It’s terrifying.”

A motive for the incident is under investigation. The FBI’s Evidence Response Team was processing evidence at the synagogue on Sunday and the bureau’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force, was investigating leads in the case, DeSarno said in his statement.

DeSarno said the FBI Shooting Incident Review Team “will conduct a thorough, factual, and objective investigation of the events.”

During the standoff, it was unclear to what extent the hostage-taker was armed, authorities said. The suspect was carrying backpacks and had said that he possessed explosives. Law enforcement officials would not say at a news conference whether he actually had explosives.

Authorities also declined to publicly confirm the demands made by the hostage-taker. Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News he was demanding the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth.

Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist with alleged ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, was sentenced to 86 years in prison after she was convicted in 2010 of assault and attempted murder of a U.S. soldier and members of a U.S. team sent to interrogate her in 2008.

Investigators have not commented on the relationship between Siddiqui and the synagogue hostage-taker.

ABC News’ Meredith Deliso, Aaron Katersky and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

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