The FBI has finally admitted the Texas synagogue siege was an anti-Semitic terror attack after initially claiming it was not directly targeting Jews.
Malik Faisal Akram, from Blackburn in the UK, held four people hostage, including a rabbi, for ten hours at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, Saturday night.
Speaking Saturday after the attack, which ended with the death of Akram in a hail of bullets, FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno said: ‘We do believe from our engaging with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community. But we’re continuing to work to find motive.’
The comments caused a huge backlash, with Republican Lindsey Graham firing back at the ‘disturbing’ remarks from investigators and demanding further explanation.
In a statement late Sunday night, the FBI backtracked and admitted the attack was ‘a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted’.
Hours earlier, President Joe Biden told reporters ‘it was an act of terror’.
Malik Faisal Akram, 44, (pictured) was shot dead by the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team after holding four hostages for more than 10 hours at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday
The FBI has finally admitted the Texas synagogue siege was an anti-Semitic terror attack after initially claiming it was not directly targeting Jews. Pictured: the synagogue on Sunday
Akram, from Blackburn in the UK, held four people hostage, including a rabbi, for ten hours at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville. Pictured: SWAT members during the siege
Akram allegedly flew to the US two weeks ago, lived in homeless shelters and bought a gun on the street.
He was calling for the release of terrorist Aafia Siddiqqui from a prison in nearby Fort Worth in Texas.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was leading the Sabbath service and was among Akram’s four hostages.
The FBI also initially said there was ‘no indication’ that anyone else was involved in the siege, but two teenagers were arrested over the incident by anti-terror officers in Manchester, England, last night.
The pair, both believed to be under 18, cannot be identified for legal reasons and are still in custody.
Speaking Saturday after the attack, which ended with the death of Akram in a hail of bullets, FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno said he did not believe it was an anti-Semitic attack
Lindsey Graham has fired back at the FBI after appearing to dismiss a terror attack at a Texas synagogue as not being directly targeting Jewish people
‘It is very disturbing to hear from the FBI they do not believe the hostage taker’s demands had anything to do with the Jewish faith,’ Graham tweeted
Akram’s brother Gulbar issued a statement on behalf of the family last night in which he told of their ‘devastation’ and revealed how relatives had been in contact with Malik during his attack at the police’s request but could not convince him to surrender.
The siege began when Akram entered the building as it was livestreaming a service, shouting that he had weapons and ‘backpacks of explosives’ on him.
He demanded the release of jailed female terrorist Siddiqu – known as Lady Al Qaeda, referring to her as his ‘sister’ but the pair are not related.
From inside the Texas synagogue, the assailant told a SWAT team: ‘If anyone tries to enter this building, I’m telling you… everyone will die.’
Leaders from the Islamic Center of Southlake, who have worked closely with Rabbi Cytron-Walker to help unite the faithful in the Dallas-Fort Worth area came out to the scene to denounce the attack and pray for their friend.
‘We want to see him again as soon as possible,’ said Shahzad Mahmud, the former president of the Islamic Center. ‘We just want to make sure he goes back to his family,’
One of the hostages was freed early in the incident and the other three fled to safety shortly before it ended.
Dramatic footage revealed the moment two hostages ran out of the temple followed by Akram who chased them with a gun before quickly retreating back inside and closing the door after spotting the nearby SWAT team.
Dozens of agents then breached h the synagogue as gunshots could be heard.
In a series of tweets, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham vented his frustration with the FBI appearing to ignore the fact Saturday’s attack targeted a religion that has long been subjected to violent and often murderous anti-Semitic hatred.
‘It is very disturbing to hear from the FBI they do not believe the hostage taker’s demands had anything to do with the Jewish faith,’ Graham began.
‘Apparently the FBI believes the hostage taker randomly selected a synagogue to demand the release of al-Qaeda operative and facilitator Aafia Siddiqui,’ he continued.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker (pictured) was leading the Sabbath service and was among Akram’s four hostages
‘I hope the FBI will reconsider the statement because it is well known that at her trial Siddiqui, also known as ‘Lady al-Qaeda,’ was a raging anti-Semite who demanded that jurors be genetically tested for Jewish blood,’ Graham added in a follow up tweet on Sunday.
‘This statement by the FBI seems ill-conceived and ill-timed. I look forward to further explanation from the FBI,’ Graham concluded.
Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss also took issue with the FBI statement, and warned that wherever Jews were attack, the entire community felt the affects – especially in the wake of rising anti-Semitic attacks in recent years.
‘They are us. There’s no distinction. Anywhere they are in danger, we are,’ Hausman-Weiss, the founding rabbi of the Congregation Shma Koleinu, said Sunday morning.
Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss, pictured, took issue with the FBI statement, and warned that wherever Jews were attack, the entire community felt the affects – especially in the wake of rising anti-Semitic attacks in recent years
Social media users called the FBI ‘a joke’ and said the organization should be ‘defunded and eliminated’
People on social media were also quick to criticize DeSarno’s statement and some even called for the FBI to be ‘defunded and eliminated.’
‘Just a coincidence that he targeted a house of worship used by this one particular religious minority, a coincidence that seems to happen an awful lot throughout history,’ media correspondent Gregg Carlstrom tweeted.
‘I am sure the FBI will clean this up shortly, but until then, worth stating the obvious: The gunman did not travel thousands of miles to terrorize some Mormons. He sought out a synagogue and took it hostage over his grievances. That’s targeting Jews, and there’s a word for that,’ journalist Yair Rosenberg tweeted.
‘The FBI is a joke. A dangerous joke,’ military intelligence analyst Sebastian Gorka noted.
Akram held the synagogue hostage in anger over the imprisonment of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui who attempted to kill US soldiers
Data from the FBI revealed that 58 percent of the US Jewish population are considered to be targets in religious based hate crimes.
‘Hate crimes are up across the country, but considering that Jews make up 2% of the American population and yet nearly 60% of all hate crimes are anti-Semitic, there is definitely an issue going on,’ Republican Texas. Rep Beth Van Duyne told Fox News.
Following the aftermath of the shooting, different places of worship have begun enacting heightened security measures as a precaution.
‘It is really frightening and scary that the Jewish day of rest, the Sabbath, was disturbed for this particular synagogue of course and really for Jews all over the world,’ Rabbi Brian Strauss with the Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston told Fox.
‘This is a day of rest, a day to thank God for all the good of our life, to be with our friends and family.
‘Thank God everything worked out for the best, but it’s frightening for all of us that attend places of worship in this great country.’
The four hostages were held at the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue for 10 hours before Akram was killed
Police were arrived at around 11am with around 200 law enforcement officers reported at the scene
Shortly after 5pm , a hostage was escorted out of the synagogue
All hostages were released after Akram was killed and were found to be unharmed
The standoff took place at the Congregation Beth Israel, in Colleyville, just 27 miles from Dallas
Strauss added that he is planning to redevelop the security system at the synagogue to ensure their safety.
Biden said Sunday: ‘I don’t have all the facts and neither does the Attorney General, but allegedly the assertion was he got the weapons on the street, that he purchased them when he landed.
‘And it turns out there were apparently no bombs that we know of, even though he said that there were bombs there as well.
‘He apparently spent the first night in a homeless shelter — I don’t have all the details, so I’m reluctant to go into much more detail, but allegedly he purchased it on the street. What that means, I don’t know if he purchased it from an individual in the homeless shelter or a homeless community.’
Biden said he has yet to contact Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was leading the Sabbath service and was among Akram’s four hostages.
‘I’ll put a call into the Rabbi. We missed one another on the way up here, but rest assured, we are focused. We are focused,’ the president said.
‘The attorney general is focused that we deal with these kinds of acts. And thank God we had such professional FBI as well as local cooperation. I was told it was incredible, so I just wanted to let you know that.’
Biden indicated that he would have more to say and more information to share during his planned Wednesday press conference
Biden released a statement in response to the shooting
Asked if the incident meant a new push to restrict firearm access, Biden said: ‘The idea of background checks are critical, but you can’t stop something like this if someone is on the street buying something from somebody else on the street.’
He indicated he would have more to say at his upcoming Wednesday press conference.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2pm, the man said, ‘You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.’ Moments later, the feed cut out.
A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.
Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his ‘sister’ on the livestream. But John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group – said Siddiqui´s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.
‘We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,’ said Floyd, who also is legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker (pictured with his wife Adena) was one of the hostages in the synagogue at the time.
Aafia, now 49, was jailed for 86 years after being arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 for the attempted murder of a US army captain.
The Pakistani-born neuroscientist was found with two kilos of poison sodium cyanide and plans for chemical attacks on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building.
She was handed to the Americans and convicted of attempted murder two years later in a US court.
But her hatred for the US was so strong that during her interrogation she grabbed a rifle from one of her guards and shot at them shouting: ‘Death to Americans.’
She came to the US in 1991 and won a partial scholarship to MIT, where she was a biology major.
Siddiqui was sent by her neurosurgeon father from Pakistan to study in the U.S. on her own and won a partial scholarship to study at the prestigious Cambridge school.
She arrived there in 1991 having been living with her brother in Texas, for a year where she studied at the University of Houston and gave regular speeches on Islam.
During one she told the crowd: ‘The hijab is not a restriction. It allows a woman to be judged by her content, not by her packaging, by what is written on the pages, not the pretty artwork on the cover’
In 1993, she wanted to do ‘something to help our Muslim brothers and sisters’ even if it meant breaking the law.
That same year, as she and some friends debated how to raise money for Muslims being killed during the Bosnian War, one of them joked that they didn’t want to go on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
She then completed a 10-hour NRA shooting course at Braintree Rifle & Pistol Club on her own and urged other Muslims to join her.
She moved to Texas to be near her brother, the reported hostage taker, who is listed as an architect in Houston.
The mother of three was radicalized after the 9/11 terror attacks, divorcing her husband and moving back to Pakistan, where she remarried Ammar Al-Baluchi, the nephew of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
What happened in Pakistan before her arrest is unclear and even during her U.S. trial judge Richard Berman said he did not know what she was doing.
But even now such is her importance as a symbol of defiance to the West that Islamic State fighters publicly stated they wanted to swap her for James Foley, the American photojournalist they executed earlier this year.
Siddiqui declined to be interviewed when approached by the Boston Globe at the Federal Prison in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is being held.
Who is Aafia Siddiqui, the ‘Lady Al Qaeda’ terrorist who planned chemical attacks on Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge
Siddiqui, who was a biology major at MIT, said in 1993 that she wanted to do ‘something to help our Muslim brothers and sisters’ even if it meant breaking the law.
She jumped to her feet and ‘raised her skinny little wrists in the air’ in a display of defiance that shocked her friends.
An in-depth account of her journey to infamy also reveals that she took a National Rifle Association shooting class and persuaded other Muslims to learn how to fire a gun.
Siddiqui lied to her husband and after they wed over the phone he was stunned to discover she was just marrying him for his family’s connections to better enable her to wage jihad.
Two handout photos of terror suspect Aafia Siddiqui released by the FBI in May of 2004
She was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 by local forces who found her with two kilos of poison sodium cyanide and plans for chemical attacks on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building
Siddiqui, a mother-of-three, eventually got her twisted wish and became the most wanted woman in the world by the FBI.
She was handed to the Americans and convicted of attempted murder in a U.S. court in 2010.
But her hatred for the U.S. was so strong that during her interrogation she grabbed a rifle from one of her guards and shot at them shouting: ‘Death to Americans’.
A 2014 Boston Globe profile of Siddiqui’s time in Boston sought to answer what happened during her 11 years as a student in the U.S.
Something happened to radicalize an intelligent and devout woman who not only graduated from MIT but also got a doctorate in neuroscience from Brandeis University.
At MIT she made few friends and was remembered as intelligent, driven and a regular at the Prospect Street mosque, which would later be attended by alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
She wore long sleeves and the hijab and was seen as ‘very sweet’ for a former roommate at her all-female dorm.
The focus of her life was the Muslim Student Association but things appear to have changed with the start of the Bosnian War, which seems to have been the beginning of her radicalization.
Siddiqui became involved with the Al-Kifah Refugee Centre, a Brooklyn-based organization which is thought to have been Al Qaeda’s focus of operations in the US.
Terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann said: ‘Aafia was from a prominent family with connections and a sympathy for jihad. She was just what they needed.’
In 1993 as she and some friends debated how to raise money for Muslims being killed during the Bosnian War, one of them joked that they didn’t want to go on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Waqas Jilani, then a graduate student at Clark University, said: ‘She raised her skinny little wrists in the air and said: ‘I’d be proud to be on the Most Wanted list because it would mean I’m doing something to help our Muslim brothers and sisters’
‘She said we should all be proud to be on that list’.
Jilani added that Siddiqui said in her speeches that Muslims should ‘get training and go overseas and fight’.
He said: ‘We were all laughing like, ‘Uh-oh, Aafia’s got a gun!’
‘Part of it was because she was such a bad shot, but also because she was always mouthing off about the U.S. and the FBI being so bad and all.’
Siddiqui married Mohammed Amjad Khan, the son of a wealthy Pakistani family, in a ceremony carried out over the phone before he flew to Boston.
But upon arrival he discovered that far from being the quiet religious woman he had been promised, her life was very different.
He said: ‘I discovered that the well-being of our nascent family unit was not her prime goal in life. Instead, it was to gain prominence in Muslim circles.’
Khan described to the Boston Globe how she regularly watched videos of Osama bin Laden, spent weekends at terror training camps in New Hampshire with activists from Al-Kifah and begged him to quit his medical job so he could join her.
In the end he stopped bringing work colleagues home because she would ‘only to talk about them converting to Islam’.
Khan said: ‘Invariably this would lead to unpleasantness, so I decided to keep my work separate….
‘…By now, all her focus had shifted to jihad against America, instead of preaching to Americans so that they all become Muslims and America becomes a Muslim land’.
The breaking point was the September 11 2001 attacks after which Siddiqui, who was by now dressing in all black, insisted they return to Pakistan and got a divorce.
American officials suspect she remarried Ammar Al-Baluchi, the nephew of 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, though her family deny this.
Siddiqui and her children disappeared in Karachi, Pakistan in 2003 shortly after Mohammed was arrested.
The following year she was named by FBI director Robert Mueller as one of the seven most wanted Al Qaeda operatives, and the only woman.