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FBI: Akram was 'a terrorist espousing antisemitic worldview'

Colleyville synagogue hostage-taker killed by multiple gunshots — medical examiner

FBI acknowledges attacker’s death ‘a result of the deadly force’ it used; special agent, rabbi say they recognized deteriorating situation at same time, acted almost simultaneously

This January 2, 2022 photo provided by OurCalling, LLC shows Malik Faisal Akram, at a Dallas homeless shelter. (OurCalling, LLC via AP)
This January 2, 2022 photo provided by OurCalling, LLC shows Malik Faisal Akram, at a Dallas homeless shelter. (OurCalling, LLC via AP)

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — The gunman who held four people captive at a Texas synagogue in a 10-hour standoff that ended with the hostages escaping and an FBI tactical team rushing in was killed by multiple gunshot wounds, according to a medical examiner, who ruled the death a homicide.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner released initial information from the autopsy of Malik Faisal Akram on Friday, six days after the 44-year-old British citizen took hostages during morning services at Congregation Beth Israel in the Dallas-area suburb of Colleyville.

In Texas, a death being ruled a homicide indicates that one person was killed by another, but does not necessarily mean the killing was a crime.

Matt DeSarno, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Dallas, said at a news conference Friday that Akram’s death “was a result of the deadly force used by the FBI.”

DeSarno, who had attracted attention on Saturday night for saying that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue not specifically connected to the Jewish community, took pains on Friday to stress that the FBI regarded the episode as an act of terrorism that threatened the Jewish community and “intentionally targeted” a house of worship. The act, he said, “was committed by a terrorist espousing an antisemitic worldview.”

“We recognize that the Jewish community in particular has suffered violence and faces very real threats from across the spectrum, from domestic violent extremists to foreign terrorist organizations. And because of that the FBI considers the enduring threats to the community to be among our very highest priorities,” he added.

Police stand in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

DeSarno said Akram is believed to have selected the synagogue because it is closest to a federal prison in nearby Fort Worth that houses a “convicted terrorist” with suspected al-Qaeda links. During negotiations, he demanded the release of that prisoner in exchange for letting the hostages free. Though DeSarno did not identify the prisoner, law enforcement officials have identified her as Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence after being convicted of shooting at American military personnel after being detained in Afghanistan.

Siddiqui’s attorney said the prisoner had no connection to Akram.

DeSarno provided additional details about the demands Akram made during protracted negotiations with the FBI, as well as the final moments of a crisis that ended with FBI agents fatally shooting him. As the night stretched on, and as Akram became more combative with the hostages and less cooperative, DeSarno authorized his teams to enter the synagogue — and almost simultaneously, the hostages inside decided it was time to make a move for it as well.

“My perception of the events were that what I was perceiving and what my leadership team and the negotiators were perceiving was that the situation had gone from bad to significantly worse and that it was time to take action,” DeSarno said.

FBI special agent Matt DeSarno speaks during a news conference about the recent hostage-taking at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, January 21, 2021. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Akram released a hostage shortly after 5 p.m. but those remaining later said he became more belligerent and threatening as the night wore on. The standoff ended around 9 p.m. after Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said he threw a chair at Akram and he and the two other remaining hostages fled.

“I can honestly tell you that as things were getting bad, it was it was really bad. I was absolutely in fear of my life,” the rabbi said during Friday’s news conference. “He went from extremely agitated with the negotiator to all of a sudden, very calm like he was earlier in the day just asking me for juice. I was highly, highly concerned in that moment. And yet fortunately, that was what gave us the opportunity, when he had [a cup of] liquid in his hand, that was part of the opportunity that we took advantage of.”

Video of the standoff’s end from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard. The medical examiner determined that Akram died at 9:22 p.m.

Akram was from the English industrial city of Blackburn. His family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues.”

He arrived in New York on a tourist visa about two weeks before the attack on the synagogue and cleared checks against law enforcement databases without raising any red flags, officials said. He spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the attack.

The FBI is still investigating how Akram got the weapon, though it has had success in tracking his movements from the time he arrived in New York on December 29 until his entrance into the synagogue on January 15. DeSarno said Friday the FBI was still reviewing his devices and scrutinizing his contacts. He was not known to the FBI or US intelligence communities until the hostage-taking, DeSarno said.

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