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 earlier security training to that he and his parishioners would get out safely.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he let the gunman into the suburban Fort Worth synagogue on Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later, he heard the click of a gun as he prayed.
Another kidnapped man, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook on Monday.
“First of all, we escaped. We were not released or released,” said Cohen, who was one of four people at the synagogue for services many other Congregation Beth Israel members were watching online.
Cohen said the men worked to keep the gunman busy. They talked to the gunman, he lectured them. At one point as the situation unfolded, Cohen said the gunman told them to kneel. Cohen remembered getting up in his chair and slowly nodding her head and saying “no.” As the gunman moved to sit back down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled for him to run.
“The exit wasn’t too far away,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to go away. I threw a chair at the gunman and headed for the door. And the three of us were able to get out without even firing a shot.”
Authorities identified the hijacker as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m.
On Sunday night, the FBI released a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during the negotiations about a prisoner serving an 86-year sentence in the United States. The statement followed comments Saturday by the special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas field office that the kidnapper focused on a topic “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook live stream from the services, demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill US military officers in Afghanistan.
“The last hour or so of the matchup, she wasn’t getting what she wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”
Cohen and Cytron-Walker described relying on active threat training to handle the terrifying situation, The Washington Post reported.
“This training saved our lives, I’m not talking hyperbole here,” Cohen wrote.
In last year’s courses, most recently on Aug. 22, Secure Community Network instructor Stuart Frisch said in an interview that he taught the rabbi and temple members how to react to situations using the “run, hide” method. , quarrel”.
Cytron-Walker said he was taught “that if his life is threatened, you have to do everything you can to get to safety, you have to do everything you can to get out.” It was in the final hour, when he “didn’t look good”, that he threw the chair. The parishioners, who, according to Cohen’s account, inched toward the door during the hours they were held, were within 20 feet of it and were able to flee.
“We escaped,” he wrote. “We were not released or released.”
Some members attributed the escape to their rabbi’s calm demeanor and quick thinking. Devorah Titunik, a member for about 15 years, said she was not surprised by Cytron-Walker’s handling of the standoff, adding: “If I was ever in a situation like that, the person I would like to have there would be Rabbi Charlie.
Video from the end of the confrontation from Dallas television station WFAA showed people running through a synagogue door, and then a man with a gun opening the same door seconds later before turning and closing it. Moments later, several shots were heard and then an explosion.
Authorities have refused to say who shot Akram, saying he was still under investigation.
The investigation spread to England, where Manchester police announced on Sunday night that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the confrontation. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests, but did not say if the couple faced any charges.
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly bought a gun off the streets.
Federal investigators believe Akram bought the gun used in the hostage-taking at a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because 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 came to 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. The London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its anti-terrorism police were in contact with US authorities about the incident.
UK 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 the British police and security services in the investigation.
Akram used his phone during the course of the negotiations to communicate with people other than police, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by his name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
It was not clear why Akram chose the synagogue, although the prison where Siddiqui is serving his sentence is in Fort Worth.
An attorney in Texas representing Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connections to Akram.
“She said from the beginning when she was sentenced that she doesn’t want any kind of violence done in her name and that she doesn’t condone any kind of violence,” said attorney Marwa Elbially.
Akram, whom his family called Faisal, was from Blackburn, an industrial town in the northwest of England. His family said that he had been “suffering from mental health problems.”
“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, etc. it is wrong and should 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 problems for a number of years,” Mahmud said. “The family was obviously aware of it, but nobody imagined that he would potentially go and do something like this.”
Mohammed Khan, leader of the local government council in Blackburn, said the community promotes peace in all religions.
“Ours is a city where people of different backgrounds, cultures and religions are welcomed, and it is a place where people get along and support one another,” Khan said in a statement.