FBI officials said Friday that a British national taking a rabbi and three other people at a Texas synagogue last weekend was an “act of terrorism” and a “federal hate crime.”
“This is a federal hate crime,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno during a news conference on Friday, noting that as negotiators began to engage with hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram, he “repeatedly demanded the United States release a convicted al-Qaida terrorist in exchange for the safe return of the hostages. In doing so, his actions clearly met the definition of terrorism.”
Akram, 44, took Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel during Shabbat services on Saturday while demanding the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of attempting to murder U.S. soldiers while in their custody in Afghanistan in 2010.
Akram reportedly knocked on the door of the synagogue. The rabbi welcomed him in and made him a cup of tea, not noticing anything suspicious until they prayed together.
The rabbi told CBS Mornings that he realized something was off when he had his back to Akram during prayer and he heard the click of his gun.
The man then began ranting for hours about his family and Islam, according to a Facebook livestream broadcast from inside the house of worship.
“If anyone tries to enter this building, I’m telling you . . . everyone will die,” he said during the livestream.
All four hostages were safely released after an hours-long standoff. The hostage-taker was killed during an exchange of gunfire after a hostage rescue team breached the synagogue.
DeSarno’s comments on Friday are a shift from when he said after the hostage situation that “the Texas synagogue hostage taker’s demands were specifically focused on issues not connected to the Jewish community.”
Biden’s FBI: The Islamist terrorist, who held Jews hostage at a Texas synagogue, on Sabbath, was “singularly focused on one issue” that was not “specifically related to the Jewish community.
He then adds “We are continuing to work to find motive.” pic.twitter.com/RUPFhORWbs
— Ari Hoffman (@thehoffather) January 16, 2022
President Biden similarly said at the time that he didn’t believe there was “sufficient information” to know why the hostage-taker “targeted that synagogue, why he insisted on the release of someone who’s been in prison over 10 years” or why he was “using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments.”
FBI director Christopher Wray later clarified that the hostage situation was an “act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community.”
“Now let me be clear and blunt, the FBI is, and has been, treating Saturday’s events as an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community. Within a matter of hours, we deployed FBI SWAT, two highly trained units from our elite Hostage Rescue Team; those are the folks who ultimately were the ones who went into the synagogue, along with canines,” Wray said during a virtual webinar held by the Anti-Defamation League.