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Texas rabbi says he and 2 hostages escaped synagogue standoff | KTA

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COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — The rabbi of a Texas synagogue where a gunman took hostages during live-streamed services said Monday he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hour-long standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” he left the gunman inside the synagogue in suburban Fort Worth on Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later he heard a gun click as he prayed.

Another man held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook Monday.

“First, we escaped. We weren’t released or freed,” said Cohen, who was one of four people in the synagogue for services that many other members of Congregation Beth Israel were watching online.

Cohen said the men were working to keep the shooter engaged. They talked to the shooter, he lectured them. At some point, as the situation evolved, Cohen said the shooter told them to get on their knees. Cohen remembers rearing up in his chair and slowly shaking his head, saying “no.” As the shooter moved to sit down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled to run.

“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.

Authorities have identified the hostage taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed on Saturday evening after the last three hostages fled the Colleyville synagogue around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m.

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 services Facebook livestream and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda who was found guilty of attempting to kill army officers American 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.”

Video of the end of the standoff 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 to close it. A few moments later, several shots and then an explosion are heard.

Authorities declined to say who shot Akram, saying the case was still under investigation.

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.

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.

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.

Community organizer Asif Mahmud, who has known the family for 30 years and attends the same mosque, said the family was devastated by what happened in Texas.

He “had mental health issues for several years,” Mahmud said. “The family was obviously aware of this… but no one considered him potentially going to do something like this.”

Mohammed Khan, head of Blackburn local government council, said the community promotes peace across all faiths.

“Our city is a city where people from different backgrounds, cultures and religions are welcome, and it’s a place where people get along and support each other,” Khan said in a statement.

___

Tucker reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle in Dallas and 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.

Texas rabbi says he and 2 hostages escaped synagogue standoff | KTA

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