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One of the hostages who escaped from a gunman holding three people captive in a Texas synagogue over the weekend has recounted the harrowing final moments of the tense 10-hour standoff.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said in an interview with CBS This Morning that at one point he noticed the gunman wasn’t in a good position, and Cytron-Walker made sure the other two hostages were ready to flee.
“I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman. And I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired,” Cytron-Walker said.
Video from the local TV station WFAA shows three people run out of the synagogue before a fourth person emerges holding what appears to be a gun. The person then retreats back inside, and moments later police breached the synagogue.
A fourth hostage had been freed earlier in the day.
Cytron-Walker’s comments came just hours after the FBI identified the alleged hostage taker as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British man. Akram died on the scene, but authorities haven’t said if he took his own life or was killed by police.
Akram demanded the release of a Pakistani woman in U.S. federal prison
President Biden called the incident an “act of terror,” and federal authorities say they are now investigating it as terrorism.
“We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial, and ethnic groups,” the bureau said in a statement on Sunday. “This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
In the U.K., the Greater Manchester police said they had arrested two teenagers in South Manchester for questioning on Sunday as part of their efforts to assist the U.S.-led investigation.
According to the FBI, Akram spoke repeatedly about “a convicted terrorist who is serving an 86-year prison sentence” on U.S. terrorism charges. That person is Aafia Siddiqui, whose name Akram can be heard calling in a livestream that captured the opening moments of the standoff.
Siddiqui is a U.S.-trained Pakistani neuroscientist who was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 on suspicion of terrorism. Prosecutors said that following her arrest, she grabbed a rifle and fired it at U.S. soldiers and FBI officers while shouting “death to America.” No Americans were hit by the gunfire.
Siddiqui was convicted in 2010. Now 49, she is currently being held a short drive from the Colleyville synagogue at FMC Carswell prison in Fort Worth, Texas, according to a database of federal inmates.
Dubbed “Lady al-Qaida” in the media, Siddiqui’s release has also been sought by groups including ISIS and the Taliban. When she was convicted, protests erupted across Pakistan by those who believe Siddiqui was innocent.
Marwa Elbially, the attorney representing Siddiqui, released a statement on Saturday condemning the hostage situation in Colleyville and calling on the gunman to release the hostages and turn himself in, CNN reported.
“Whoever the assailant is, we want him to know that his actions are condemned by Dr. Aafia and her family,” the statement said.
Antisemitism is on the rise in the U.S.
The hostage situation has been widely condemned as an antisemitic attack at a time when Jews are reporting more hate-filled incidents.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents are being recorded at record levels and Jews are the most targeted religious group in the U.S.
Holly Huffnagle, with the American Jewish Committee, said Saturday’s hostage situation was a deliberate attack on Jewish people.
“It wasn’t a government office. It wasn’t another house of worship by a different faith community. It was targeting Jews,” Huffnagle said.
Cytron-Walker credited active-shooter and security courses given by the local police department for saving him and the other hostages.