By: Amelia Dasari — Online Editor-in-Chief
Four people were held hostage by a British nationalist at Congregation Beth Israel, a Jewish synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday, January 15th, 2022.
The FBI identified the suspect as 44-year old Malik Faisal Akram. Akram entered the synagogue at around 11 a.m. Saturday morning for the Sabbath service, which was live streamed on Facebook and Zoom.
Akram’s family claims he had a history of mental illness and he had been investigated by UK intelligence services before. But he was not deemed to be a terroristic threat.
Akram told the hostages he intended to secure the release of Aafia Siddiqui — an American-educated Pakistani woman infamously known as Lady al-Qaeda. Siddiqui was convicted of terrorism charges in 2010 and is now serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.
The stand-off lasted for 11 hours before a rescue team entered the building. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker threw a chair at Akram allowing the other three hostages to escape. The hostages got out around 9 p.m. and Akram was killed shortly after.
Barry Klompus, a member of the congregation for the last 20 years, witnessed the events unfold online. “It was horrible listening and watching, and it’s that much more horrible not knowing,” said Klompus.
U.S. President Joe Biden called this “an act of terror” and praised the “courageous work” of local, federal, and state law enforcement officers in freeing the hostages. “I am grateful to the tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked US law enforcement for their help with the incident. “I was so relieved to hear that you and the other hostages are safe and sound,” Bennett said. “Your leadership in this time of crisis was admirable.”
The Prime Minister also said that he will continue to support and stand by the Congregation. “Israel stands united with the Jewish community in Colleyville. I was praying here for your safety, together with the rest of Israel… Please send strength to your congregation. We are brothers.”
The incident has put Jewish communities across the United States on edge. At a healing service on Monday night, Cytron-Walker addressed the traumatic events and expressed his gratitude towards his community. More than 4,400 people viewed the service on Facebook Live. “I’m so grateful, so unbelievably grateful, tonight — unlike every other service like this that I have done — we will not be saying our traditional prayer for mourning,” he said. “Thank God, thank God. It could’ve been so much worse and I am overflowing, truly overflowing with gratitude.”
While this was a joyous occasion, Cytron-Walker also acknowledged the fact that it will take the Congregation a long time to heal. “To my CBI family, I wish I had a magic wand. I wish I could take away all of our pain and struggle,” Cytron-Walker said. “I know that this violation of our spiritual home was traumatic for each and every one of us, and not just us. In the road ahead, this is going to be a process.”