2 UK teens arrested in connection with Texas synagogue hostage-taking

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — Police in England said Sunday they have arrested two teenagers in their investigation into an armed British citizen who took four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue.

Greater Manchester Police did not name the suspects or whether they faced charges. They were described as teenagers being detained for questioning.

FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont referred questions to Manchester police.

THIS IS A LAST MINUTE UPDATE. The previous AP story follows below.

A rabbi who was among four people held hostage at a Texas synagogue said Sunday that his armed captor became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” toward the end of the 10-hour standoff, which ended with an FBI SWAT team who broke into the building and the captor. death.

Authorities identified the hijacker as a 44-year-old British citizen, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last hostages ran out of Congregation Beth Israel around 9 p.m. The FBI said there was no indication that someone else was involved. , but had not provided a possible motive as of Sunday afternoon.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited the security training his suburban Fort Worth congregation has received over the years for helping him and the other three hostages get through the ordeal, which he described as traumatic.

“In the final hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instructions we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation arose.”

President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. 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 ties to al-Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill US military officers in Afghanistan.

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.

COLLEYVILLE, TEXAS – JANUARY 15: Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller speaks at a news conference near Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. The four people who were held hostage at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue have been released safely after more than 10 hours of being held captive by a gunman. This morning, police responded to a hostage situation following reports that a man with a gun was holding people captive. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Brandon Bell via Getty Images

Video from Dallas television station WFAA showed people running through a synagogue door, 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.

“Rest assured, we are focused,” Biden said. “The attorney general is focused and making sure that we deal with these types of acts.”

Akram recently 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. The London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its anti-terrorism police were in contact with US authorities about the incident.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hijacker specifically targeted an issue that was not directly related to the Jewish community. It was not clear why Akram chose the synagogue, although the prison where Saddiqui is serving his sentence is in Fort Worth.

Michael Finfer, president of the congregation, said in a statement that “there was a one in a million chance that the gunman would target our congregation.”

Authorities have refused to say who shot Akram, saying he was still under investigation.

Authorities said police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood shortly after.

Saturday services were streamed live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the live broadcast, which did not show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2 pm, the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the transmission cut off. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.

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 speak about an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Several people heard the kidnapper refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the live feed. But John Floyd, chairman of the board of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group, said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.

Police stand outside the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. A man held hostages for more than 10 hours inside the temple on Saturday. The hostages managed to escape and the hostage taker was killed. FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said a team would investigate “the shooting incident.” (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

“We want the assailant to know that his actions are evil and directly undermine those of us seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.

Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched about an hour of the live stream, said she heard the man rail against the United States and claim he had a bomb. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats.

“It was all over the map. He was pretty pissed off and the more he got pissed off, the more threats he made, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all up to you. And he would laugh at that,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. By Sunday morning, the police perimeter around the synagogue had been reduced to half a block in any direction and FBI agents could be seen entering and leaving the building. A sign reading “Love,” with the “o” replaced by a Star of David, was planted on a neighbor’s lawn.

Caught outside his home on Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a bit overwhelming as you can imagine. Yesterday was not fun,” he told the AP.

Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages after their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5:00 p.m. That was around the time food was handed out to those inside the synagogue, but Paley said he didn’t know if it was part of the negotiations.

“He seemed a little unfazed, actually, but I don’t know if it was some kind of shock or just the timing,” Paley said of the first hostage to be released.

Cytron-Walker said her congregation had received training from local authorities and from the Secure Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by a coalition of Jewish organizations and describes itself as “the official safety and security organization” for the community. Jewish in North America. Michael Masters, the organization’s executive director, said the congregation had provided security training in August and had no prior knowledge of Akram.

The standoff prompted authorities to tighten security elsewhere, including in New York City, where police said they increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that “this event is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism lives on and we must continue to fight it around the world.”

Tucker reported from Washington, DC Also contributing to this reporter were Associated Press writers Paul J. Weber and Acacia Coronado in Austin; 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; and Issac Scharf in Jerusalem.

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