What We Know About the Texas Synagogue Hostage Standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16 in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A nearly 11-hour hostage standoff at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, near Fort Worth ended on Saturday night after the hostages were able to stage a daring escape, allowing an FBI SWAT team to storm the building. The male captor — a 44-year-old British national named Malik Faisal Akram — was subsequently killed. President Biden called the incident an “act of terror” on Sunday. Below is what we know about the still-developing story.

What happened

During the Sabbath morning service on Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, an armed man — later identified as Malik Faisal Akram — entered the Reform synagogue and took four men hostage at gunpoint, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker.

Colleyville police responded after receiving a call about the incident at 10:41 a.m. Roughly 200 local, state, and federal law-enforcement officers ultimately arrived on the scene, and residents in the surrounding neighborhood were evacuated. Hostage negotiators spoke with Akram, who said he had both firearms and explosives, repeatedly throughout the day.

The service, which began at 10 a.m., was being livestreamed on Facebook. In the sometimes-inaudible audio from the livestream, which did not show what was happening in the synagogue, an angry man could be heard ranting about various subjects, including dying, not liking the police, and religion. The suspect could also periodically be heard speaking with negotiators over the phone. Per CNN:

Congregation member Stacey Silverman described watching the livestream for more than an hour, listening to the suspect ranting, sometimes switching between saying “I’m not a criminal” to being apologetic about the situation. The suspect was vacillating between different languages and “screaming hysterically,” she said.

Law-enforcement officials told the Associated Press and CNN that during the crisis, the suspect apparently demanded the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist with suspected links to Al Qaeda who is serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison in Texas. In the livestream, which Facebook shut down around 2 p.m., the suspect could apparently be heard referring to Siddiqui as his “sister” — but a lawyer for Siddiqui and her brother later said that the suspect was not related to, nor had any ties to either of them.

Akram released one hostage around 5 p.m. on Saturday. Then, shortly after 9 p.m., the remaining hostages were able to seize an opportunity to flee the building. By that time, Rabbi Cytron-Walker said Monday, Akram was becoming “increasingly belligerent and threatening” as it was clear he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. The situation “didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” he said. The rabbi then saw an opportunity to act and took it. During a moment when their captor was “not in a good position,” Cytron-Walker told the other two remaining hostages to make for the nearby exit and then threw a chair at Akram — and all three were able to escape unharmed. Cytron-Walker also credited security courses he had taken on how to deal with situations like what happened Saturday.

Agents from the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team then stormed the building, according to video shot by a local photographer. Akram was subsequently killed, though it’s not yet clear how. Authorities said they recovered Akram’s handgun from the scene but did not find any explosives.

On Sunday, President Biden called the hostage crisis an “act of terror” and praised how local and federal law enforcement had handled the situation and secured the release of the hostages unharmed. On Saturday, Biden released a statement offering support to those affected by the standoff and vowed that “we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”

Early Sunday morning, Rabbi Cytron-Walker posted a message on Facebook expressing his gratitude for the outcome of the ordeal and the international outpouring of support:

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.

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 suspect

The FBI identified the captor and lone suspect on Sunday as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen. The Associated Press reports that Akram, who was from Blackburn, entered the country about two weeks ago with a tourism visa and was apparently able to later purchase a handgun, which he eventually wielded at the synagogue.

“This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” the FBI said in a statement. Both London’s Metropolitan Police and the British Foreign Office have said that they are working with U.S. authorities. As part of the investigation into Akram, two teenagers were arrested in England on Sunday night, according to the BBC.

Akram’s brother released a statement in which he apologized to the victims at the synagogue and said that Akram had been suffering from mental-health issues.

So far, the only indication of a possible motive has been the reports that Akram was seeking the release of Aafia Siddiqui — which have not been publicly confirmed by authorities.

Who is Aafia Siddiqui?

Aafia Siddiqui is a U.S.-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison after she was convicted on charges that she attempted to murder Americans and U.S. government employees, as well as assault U.S. Army officers, after she was detained in Afghanistan in 2008. In Pakistan, Siddiqui is widely regarded as a scapegoat who was unjustly imprisoned; she and her family have maintained that she is not a terrorist.

This post has been updated.

What We Know About the Texas Synagogue Hostage Standoff