A deadlocked gunman at a Texas synagogue was expelled from a local mosque for erratic behavior days before taking hostages

(CNN) — About 10 days before taking four hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in North Texas, Malik Faisal Akram had a heated exchange with officials from the Islamic Center of Irving and was eventually escorted off the property, the adviser says. chief legal officer of the organization.

Khalid Hamideh of the Islamic Center told CNN on Tuesday that Akram, 44, arrived at the mosque to pray but became belligerent after asking mosque workers if he could sleep inside the building and they declined, citing city ordinances barring overnight guests.

“He was hostile because he was told he had to leave the mosque, that he couldn’t stay overnight,” Hamideh said. “He became restless and almost confrontational, telling the people there that ‘you will be judged by the Almighty Lord for, you know, not helping another Muslim brother. “”

Hamideh said the mosque official who interacted with Akram did not wish to speak publicly, but told the Islamic Center leadership that Akram was exhibiting erratic behavior, although at that time there was no had no indication of any form of potential violence.

Hamideh said Akram returned the next day, apologized for his earlier behavior and asked permission to pray. Hamideh said the center does not turn away anyone who wants to pray, and Akram left on the second day without any problems.

The mosque official told Hamideh that the would-be hostage taker seemed like a different person when he returned the next day, “acting like he was your best friend.” Hamideh described Akram’s behavior as an “about-face in behavior to extremes”.

The latest revelation helps authorities establish a clearer timeline of Akram’s movements in the days leading up to the hostage-taking at the Colleyville synagogue, about 15 miles from Irving.

Akram, a British national, arrived in the United States on a flight to New York in late December and was not on any US government watch list, a US law enforcement source told CNN. He arrived in the United States legally and cleared before arriving, a separate US federal law enforcement source said.

Investigators are investigating how Akram traveled from New York to Texas.

Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 13, Akram spent three nights at Union Gospel Mission Dallas, a homeless shelter, according to the shelter’s CEO, Bruce Butler. “We were a stage for him,” he said. “He had a plan. He was very quiet. He was going back and forth.”

Akram last left the mission on Thursday, according to their records.

Then on Saturday, Akram walked into the Colleyville synagogue and produced a weapon during his Sabbath service, sparking an 11 a.m. standoff with local, state and federal authorities. A hostage was released unharmed; the other three escaped; and an FBI team killed Akram.

The incident has once again left Jewish communities across the United States on edge. Attacks on Jews are on the rise, warns the Anti-Defamation League. And while the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involve harassment and vandalism, assaults have also taken place, with at least six deaths since 2016, including at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.

The FBI is investigating Saturday’s incident as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted,” the agency said. Investigators believe Akram was motivated by a desire to see the release of a convicted terrorist who is serving an 86-year federal prison sentence in Fort Worth, Texas, they said.

That prisoner, Aafia Siddiqui, was convicted of attempted murder and other charges in a 2008 assault on US officers in Afghanistan. She was not involved in the Colleyville attack, her attorney said.

U.S. authorities base their belief on Akram’s motivation on discussions with him during the hostage negotiations and on audio from a live broadcast of the Sabbath service that captured the hostage-taking, they said. declared.

Akram was known to British security services and briefly investigated in 2020, a British official told CNN. The investigation against Akram was closed when investigators deemed him no longer a threat, the official said.

Two teenagers have been arrested in South Manchester, England, in connection with the Texas incident and are awaiting questioning, British Counter Terrorism Police Greater Manchester said on Sunday. Akram is from Blackburn, an industrial town of 121,000 just northwest of Manchester, British authorities said.

Akram’s brother said the family was “absolutely devastated” by his actions and that they “wholeheartedly apologize to all of the victims,” ​​he wrote in a statement on Facebook, adding that the family was in contact with the police during the incident. Akram suffered from mental health issues, the statement said without giving further details.

Rabbi “overflowing with gratitude”

During a healing service Monday night at a United Methodist Church, the rabbi who was among four held hostage described his emotions about his escape in a shaky voice.

The enormity of the ordeal in Colleyville — being held at gunpoint for hours and making a daring but terrifying escape — is difficult to process, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said, but an outpouring of support from his community and others around the world left him optimistic that his congregation will recover.

“I’m so grateful, so incredibly grateful, tonight — unlike every other service like this I’ve performed — we won’t be saying our traditional bereavement prayer,” Cytron-Walker told a crowd gathered at the of a healing service at White’s Chapel The United Methodist Church and thousands of supporters watch a live broadcast of the event.

Saturday’s attack “could have been much worse, and I’m overflowing, truly with gratitude,” Cytron-Walker said Monday.

“I want people to understand, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a synagogue, if you’re a Jew, if you’re a Muslim, if you’re a Christian, if you’re religious at all, it can happen in a Sadly, that’s the world we live in,” Cytron-Walker told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

Members of the congregation who were held hostage have credited safety courses, including active shooter training, with helping them through the ordeal.

“This training saved our lives,” wrote Jeffrey Cohen, vice chairman of the board of directors of Congregation Beth Israel, in a Facebook post. “I’m not speaking in hyperbole here – it saved our lives.”

The rabbi acknowledged that the trauma of the incident extended beyond those trapped in the synagogue to all members of the congregation, including some who watched it unfold on a live stream of the service of the sabbath.

“At any moment, I thought there was going to be a gunshot,” Stacey Silverman, a member of Congregation Beth Israel, told CNN as she watched the live stream, which was set up so that people can watch services from home during COVID-19. pandemic.

Watching the incident unfold left Silverman “terrified and heartbroken,” she said.

Hostages tell how they escaped

The hostage taker was “screaming hysterically” at times and sometimes speaking different languages, Silverman said.

As the hours passed, he “became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said.

When the shooter started screaming and worshipers realized they were hostages, Cohen said he quickly dialed 911, put the phone face down and followed the hostage taker’s instructions.

“But not exactly as ordered,” he said on Facebook. “Instead of going to the back of the room, I stayed in line with one of the exits.”

As the hours passed, Cohen said he began to slowly move a few chairs in front of him. “Anything to slow or deflect a bullet or shrapnel,” he said.

Throughout the hostage situation, Cohen said they all worked to keep the shooter engaged in conversation. “As long as he was talking and was a little quiet, we bought the FBI some time to position themselves.”

One of the hostages was released unharmed around 5 p.m., Colleyville police said.

Hours later, Cytron-Walker saw his opening when he offered the shooter a drink within a drink.

“As he was drinking, the gun wasn’t in the best position and I thought it was our best chance, I had to make sure the people who were still with me were ready to leave,” the rabbi said.

“And so there was a chair that was right in front of me. I told the guys to go there, picked it up, and threw it at him with all the adrenaline,” Cytron-Walker told CNN. . “It was absolutely terrifying and I didn’t know if I was going to be shot, and I didn’t hear a gunshot when I came out. I was the last one out.”

An FBI team killed the suspect after the hostages escaped around 9 p.m.

Faith communities will continue to be targets of violence, federal officials warn

Akram spoke about Siddiqui, the federal prisoner in Fort Worth, Cohen told CNN.

“He wanted this woman released and he wanted to talk to her…he said bluntly that he chose this synagogue because ‘Jews control the world. Jews control the media. Jews control the banks. I want to talk to the chief rabbi”. of the United States,” Cohen told CNN on Monday.

“I wish I had a magic wand. I wish I could take away all of our pain and struggle,” Cytron-Walker said during the healing service. “I know this violation of our spiritual home has been traumatic for all of us. And not just for us. On the road ahead, this is going to be a process.”

Senior Bureau and Department of Homeland Security officials warned in a letter Monday that “faith communities have and likely will continue to be targets of violence from domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists.” “.

According to the letter obtained by CNN.

This story was first published on CNN.com.

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