COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — A gunman who held four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue had spent time at area homeless shelters in the two weeks before the attack, and had been dropped off at one by someone he appeared to know.
Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national whom authorities have identified as the hostage taker, was brought to the downtown Dallas shelter on January 2 by a man who picked him up in his arms and took him conversations with him, said Wayne Walker, CEO. and pastor of OurCalling, which provides services to the homeless.
“He was dropped off by someone who appeared to have a relationship with him,” said Walker, who said he turned over photos and videos to the FBI.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he would let Akram into Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday morning because he seemed to need shelter. The synagogue is in Colleyville, a town of about 26,000 people located 30 miles northwest of Dallas.
Cytron-Walker said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first, but later heard the click of a gun as he prayed.
The rabbi and three other men were attending the service which was being broadcast live when they were taken hostage. The first hostage was released shortly before 5 p.m. Cytron-Walker and two others escaped around 9 p.m., when Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the shooter.
“The exit wasn’t too far off,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to leave. I threw a chair at the shooter and headed for the door. And the three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.
Akram was killed after the hostages escaped. Authorities declined to say who shot Akram, saying the case was still under investigation.
Video of the end of the stalemate from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running through a synagogue door, then a man holding a gun opening the same door seconds later before turning around and closing it. A few moments later, several shots and then an explosion are heard.
The FBI released a statement late Sunday calling the ordeal a “terrorism-related issue, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force was investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke several times during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the United States. The statement followed comments Saturday from the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office that the hostage taker was focused on “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al-Qaeda who was found guilty of attempting to kill US army officers in Afghanistan.
“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”
At a service held Monday evening at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well wishes, kindness and compassion” was overwhelming.
“Thank you for all the compassion, from the bottom of my heart,” Cytron-Walker said.
“Although very few of us are doing well right now, we will get through this,” he said.
The investigation has spread to England, where Manchester police announced on Sunday night that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the clash. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests, but did not say whether the couple faced charges.
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a gun on the street.
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage crisis at a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation is ongoing. . Akram arrived in the United States at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.
Akram arrived in the United States on a tourist visa from Britain, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were in contact with US authorities over the incident.
British Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her American counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “the full support” of British police and security services in the ‘investigation.
After staying at the OurCalling facility on Jan. 2, he stayed at another homeless shelter in Dallas.
An FBI spokeswoman said late Monday night that they had no information to confirm regarding Akram’s stay at OurCalling facilities. The agency said there was no early indication anyone else was involved in the hostage-taking.
Akram spent three nights between Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 at Union Gospel Mission Dallas, homeless shelter CEO Bruce Butler told CNN. According to their records, Akram left for the last time on January 13, two days before taking the hostages from the synagogue.
Akram used his phone during negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Akram’s reason for choosing the synagogue was unclear, although the prison where Siddiqui is serving his sentence is in Fort Worth.
A Texas attorney who represents Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connection to Akram.
“She said from the start, when she was sentenced, that she did not want any violence to be committed in her name and that she does not condone any type of violence,” lawyer Marwa Elbially said.
Akram, who was called Faisal by his family, was from Blackburn, an industrial town in the northwest of England. His family said he “suffers from mental health issues”.
“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim etc. is wrong and must always be condemned,” wrote his brother, Gulbar Akram.
Stengle reported from Dallas and Tucker reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin also contributed to this report; Michael Balsamo in Washington; Colleen Long in Philadelphia; Elliot Spagat in San Diego; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Michael R. Sisak in New York; Holly Meyer in Nashville, Tennessee; Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem; and Danica Kirka in London.