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Hostage taker killed after Colleyville synagogue standoff was a British national; rabbi 'grateful to be alive'

The man who held people hostage at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue for 10 hours on Saturday was killed after a SWAT assault and the safe rescue of the hostages, authorities said. The FBI identified the British national as Malik Faisal Akram, 44.

In a lyrical statement posted on Facebook on Sunday morning, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker wrote, in part, "I am grateful we made it out. I am grateful to be alive."

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller said Saturday's operation was “a success” thanks to partnerships with local, state and federal agencies. A special FBI hostage rescue team flew in from Quantico, Va., Miller said. He added at least 200 law enforcement personnel were on the scene.

There was no indication of an ongoing threat, and investigators continued to look into the motive behind the day's events, said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno, who spoke at a press conference Saturday night.

"It's very likely this situation would have ended very badly early on in the day had we not had professional, consistent negotiation with the subject," DeSarno added.

On Sunday morning, DeSarno issued a statement identifying Akram as the hostage taker. He said that the investigation into the incident will have a “global reach” and that FBI officials in Tel Aviv and London had been contacted.

“We obviously are investigating and we will continue to investigate the hostage-taker,” DeSarno said. “We will continue to investigate his contacts.”

Why Akram chose to take hostages in a small suburban synagogue rather than at the place of worship for a larger congregation – or why he went to a synagogue at all – was one of the questions investigators apparently were exploring.

“We do believe from our engagement with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community, but we are continuing to work to find motive and we will continue on that path,” DeSarno added.

KERA reported that police officers on Sunday continued to restrict access to the synagogue, maintaining a perimeter of roughly a quarter-mile. Law enforcement personnel also appeared to be searching through the area. Residents in the area had been evacuated from their homes during the hostage incident.

The standoff dominated most of Saturday's news cycle. While investigators did not immediately identify a motive, some authorities told the Associated Press that the man demanded the release of a Pakistani woman convicted of attempting to kill U.S. soldiers.

The hostage crisis began late Saturday morning. That’s when Akram took Rabbi Cytron-Walker and three members of his congregation hostage during a service, according to law enforcement officials.

Several news outlets, including the Associated Press, explored the possibility that the man demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted in 2010 for attempting to kill U.S. Army officers during an interrogation in Afghanistan two years earlier.

Siddiqui, who holds degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Brandeis University, was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison in Fort Worth.

In 2014, journalist Shane Harris spoke to NPR about Siddiqui. He explained that her prosecution and imprisonment made her a celebrity to the Taliban, the Islamic State and to Islamic groups focused on criminal justice.

Harris noted that Siddiqui's case has been referenced in other well-publicized incidents, including the beheading of James Foley and negotiations over the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The Associated Press added that in 2018, prosecutors alleged an Ohio man planned to fly to Texas to break Siddiqui out of prison. Instead, he was convicted and sentenced to his own 22-year prison term.

On Saturday afternoon, the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, and a group called the Free Dr. Aafia Movement issued a joint statement that condemned the Colleyville incident.

"We want the hostage-taker to know that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her family strongly condemn this act and do not stand by you," the statement said. "Dr. Aafia’s family has always stood firm in advocating for the release of their sister from incarceration by legal and non-violent means only."

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said Saturday afternoon that the Dallas Police Department deployed additional patrols to area synagogues. "Police are working with the Jewish Federation and our local, state, and federal partners to monitor any concerns or threats based on the situation in Colleyville," Johnson said on Twitter.

On Saturday evening, Johnson's Anti-Hate Advisory Council also issued a statement that called "upon people of all faiths to come together and work to unite our country. Our support goes out to the Colleyville community and the entire North Texas Jewish community."

President Joe Biden expressed relief over the outcome. "Thanks to the courageous work of state, local and federal law enforcement, four Americans who were held hostage at a Texas synagogue will soon be home with their families," he said in a statement Saturday evening.

He added: "I am grateful to the tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages. We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community."

KERA's Syeda Hasan, Solomon Wilson, and Bill Zeeble and TPR's Dan Katz and Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.