A rabbi who endured a tense 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue said on Monday he and the other hostages fled after throwing a chair at the assailant.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker spoke to “CBS Mornings” hours after the FBI released a statement calling the standoff “a terrorism-related matter in which the Jewish community was targeted.”
Cytron-Walker said in the final hour of Saturday’s clash it appeared the aggressor, British national Malik Faisal Akram, “didn’t get what he wanted”.
“It didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good,” Cytron-Walker said. “We were terrified.”
He said he saw an opportunity and made sure the other two remaining hostages were ready. The exit was not far away, he said.
“I told them to leave,” he said. “I threw a chair at the shooter and headed for the door. And the three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
Akram, 44, was killed after an FBI SWAT team broke into Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville. The transatlantic investigation into the incident intensified with the arrest of two teenagers in Britain on Sunday evening. Details of their alleged involvement were not immediately released.
The FBI said the Joint Terrorism Task Force was investigating — and that preventing terrorism was the agency’s “No. 1 priority.”
“We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and other religious, racial and ethnic groups,” the statement said. “We have had a close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community for many years.”
The FBI’s latest statement differed from remarks immediately after the clash when the Dallas bureau chief said the assailant’s demands were “specifically focused on matters unrelated to the Jewish community.” Investigators said Akram expressed support for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist serving 86 years in a Texas prison for attempting to assassinate US service members in Afghanistan more than a decade ago.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said Sunday it was “disturbing” to hear the FBI play down the link to anti-Semitism.
“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 rabid anti-Semite who demanded that jurors be genetically tested for Jewish blood,” Graham tweeted. . “This FBI statement seems ill-conceived and inappropriate.”
ARRESTED TEENAGERS: British police arrest 2 teenagers in connection with Texas hostage situation; The FBI identifies the assailant
The Anti-Defamation League applauded the FBI’s efforts, but also called for the link to anti-Semitism to be fully investigated.
“There is no doubt, given what we know so far, that the hostage taker chose his target carefully,” the league said in a statement. “We urge law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate the role anti-Semitism may have played in the suspect’s motivation.”
END OF INTERVIEW: Texas synagogue hostages safe after hours of deadlock
In its latest statement, the FBI also referenced its protracted negotiations with Akram who “spoke repeatedly” about Siddiqui. She was arrested in 2008 by Afghan authorities who found notes referring to a “massive attack” possibly targeting New York. When US officials attempted to interview Siddiqui in Ghazni, Afghanistan, she grabbed an army officer’s gun and shot an officer and other members of the interview team.
She was brought to New York for trial. Siddiqui told the judge she wanted the jurors to undergo genetic testing.
“Whether they are Zionist or Israeli in origin. . . they are all mad at me,” Siddiqui told the judge. “They should be excluded if you want to be fair.”
Siddiqui is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth, less than 25 miles from the synagogue.
None of the four hostages in Saturday’s attack were injured. Cytron-Walker on Sunday expressed his gratitude to law enforcement for their efforts to end the standoff.
“I am grateful and filled with appreciation for all the vigils, the prayers, the love and support, all the law enforcement and first responders who attended to us, all the safety training that has helped save us,” he wrote in a Facebook post. . “I’m grateful that we made it out. I’m grateful to be alive.”