Texas synagogue standoff: Rabbi credits security training in hostage situation

Southwest

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (NewsNation Now) — Authorities Monday continued an investigation into the weekend standoff at a Texas synagogue that ended with an armed British national dead and a rabbi crediting past security training for getting him and three members of his congregation out safely.

Authorities identified the hostage-taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last hostages ran out of Congregation Beth Israel. The FBI said there was no early indication that anyone else was involved, but it had not provided a possible motive.

The investigation stretched to England, where police in Manchester Sunday announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counter-terrorism officers had made the arrests but did not say whether the pair faced any charges.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said security training at his suburban Fort Worth congregation over the years is what allowed him and the other three hostages to make it through the 10-hour ordeal, which he described as traumatic.

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

NewsNation spoke with Steve Hays, a close friend of the rabbi, who said that if this happens to one member of the Jewish faith, it happens to them all.

“I feel violated to know that any Jewish individual anywhere is affected by antisemitism, and hatred affects the whole community,” Hays said, choking up with emotion.

As of Monday, the Colleyville congregation was still identified as a crime scene.

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.

Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.

Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.

Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages upon their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. and Paley was able to speak with him shortly after his release.

“He was in good spirits and thankfully reunited with family shortly thereafter,” Paley told “Morning in America.” “It was a long day, of course, difficult, I know there’ll be a lot to continue to process. He was grateful for the calm demeanor that Rabbi Charlie displayed throughout the day. He was able to appreciate the fact that coming from a loving and caring community as it was in all the training and skills that they were able to acquire resulted in an ability to have come out of that a little bit.”

Cytron-Walker said his congregation had received training from local authorities and 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” of the Jewish community in North America. Michael Masters, the CEO of the organization, said the congregation had provided security training in August and had not been previously aware of Akram.

Rabbi Denise Eger, a friend of Cytron-Walker, said while the security measures are important it is hard for congregations since they want to be welcoming and open to all.

“There are some basic things to do, like notice who comes in who goes out. I know many congregations actually, who can afford it have guards to let you in,” Eger said. “In most many congregations now you have to buzz the door to get in and state your business. That’s kind of the opposite of what we want to be which is open and welcoming. We’re taught to welcome the stranger in our midst in Jewish tradition, to love our neighbor as ourselves. And yet you have to balance that against the safety and security of those who come to worship and those in your community. And it’s quite a dilemma for all of us.”

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. Reached outside his home Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a little overwhelming as you can imagine. It was not fun yesterday,” he told the AP.

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