Texas Rabbi Recounts Dramatic Escape From Synagogue

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As a gunman ranted, the hostages whispered instructions and edged person to the door. The rabbi credited information grooming for their harmless exit.

The Congregation Beth Israel synagogue successful  Colleyville, Texas, connected  Sunday.
Credit...Brandon Wade/Associated Press

Jan. 17, 2022, 2:27 p.m. ET

DALLAS — The Texas rabbi held hostage connected Saturday said that helium and the different 2 remaining hostages escaped by throwing a seat astatine the gunman and past fleeing the synagogue wherever they had been held for 11 hours.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited information grooming with the palmy flight — which progressive whispered instructions, edging person to the doorway and talking with the gunman, who was agitated and ranting.

President Biden called the onslaught an “act of terror” connected Sunday, and the F.B.I. said it was investigating the onslaught arsenic a “terrorism-related matter.”

Synagogues crossed the United States person paid expanding attraction to information issues since 2018, erstwhile an antisemitic assailant killed 11 radical astatine the Tree of Life synagogue successful Pittsburgh.

“It’s a horrible happening that this benignant of acquisition is needed successful our nine today,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker said. “But we don’t get to ever woody with the world we want. We person to woody with world arsenic it exists.”

The rabbi said helium archetypal suspected thing was amiss astir the visitant to his synagogue connected Saturday greeting erstwhile helium heard a “click.”

He had fto the alien successful to Congregation Beth Israel of Colleyville, successful the suburbs of Fort Worth, earlier Shabbat services that morning. The antheral didn’t look nervous, the rabbi said successful an interrogation connected Monday. He said helium thought the antheral was conscionable coming successful to the synagogue to get lukewarm connected an unusually acold time successful North Texas, truthful helium made the antheral immoderate blistery tea.

The antheral was Malik Faisal Akram, and had traveled from England to New York conscionable earlier New Year’s Day, the authorities said Sunday. A fewer weeks later, helium walked into the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue and began a hostage concern that ended with the congregants’ melodramatic escape, gunfire and Mr. Akram’s death.

Mr. Akram sat softly arsenic the supplication work began, the rabbi said. In-person attendance was sparse, with conscionable 3 different congregants present, the rabbi starring services astatine the beforehand of the sanctuary, and others watching a livestream connected Facebook from their homes. About 30 oregon 40 minutes into the service, the rabbi turned his backmost to the congregation to look Jerusalem arsenic helium prayed. That’s erstwhile helium heard the click.

“It could person been anything, but it besides could person been a gun,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker recalled.


Credit...Mark Birnbaum

During the play of soundless supplication that followed, the rabbi said, helium approached the alien and mildly told him helium was invited to enactment for the afloat work but that helium did not request to stay.

Mr. Akram past revealed a weapon and pointed it astatine the rabbi. (The rabbi declined to accidental successful the interrogation what benignant of weapon Mr. Akram brandished, citing the ongoing investigation.) That began a protracted ordeal that the rabbi described arsenic alternately tense and terrifying.

“It was a batch of conversation, trying to support things calm, trying to assistance him to spot america arsenic quality beings, and listening to him rant,” helium said. “Everybody, for the astir part, was capable to enactment calm.”

Jeffrey Cohen, who is identified connected the synagogue’s website arsenic its vice president, posted his ain relationship of the melodramatic flight connected Facebook connected Monday. Mr. Cohen wrote that helium was successful the synagogue, and had dialed 911 and laid down his telephone facing downward erstwhile it was wide what was happening.

Law enforcement was alerted to the concern astir 10:40 a.m., erstwhile the constabulary received a 911 telephone astir a gunman entering the synagogue and taking hostages. City, authorities and national officials, including an F.B.I. squad that flew successful from Quantico, Va., arrived connected the country implicit the people of the time and entered into extended negotiations with Mr. Akram.

The F.B.I. said connected Sunday that Mr. Akram spoke astir Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted successful 2010 of trying to termination American subject officers successful Afghanistan. She was sentenced to 86 years successful situation and is incarcerated astatine a national women’s situation successful Fort Worth.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker confirmed that Dr. Siddiqui was Mr. Akram’s sole focus.

The 4 hostages were kept together, Rabbi Cytron-Walker said, and were capable to physique capable bully volition with Mr. Akram that 1 of them was released astir 5 p.m. The rabbi and the different 2 remained arsenic nighttime fell and arsenic Mr. Akram became progressively belligerent successful his conversations with instrumentality enforcement.

“There was a batch much yelling, a batch much threatening,” Rabbi Cytron-Walker said.

Mr. Akram fto the hostages telephone their families, Mr. Cohen wrote. Mr. Cohen called his wife, his girl and his son, and besides posted a Facebook connection that was aboriginal deleted.


Credit...Andy Jacobsohn/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Throughout their ordeal, the lessons received successful information grooming helped usher the hostages. Rabbi Cytron-Walker compared his information grooming — with the F.B.I., the Anti-Defamation League, and the Secure Community Network — to C.P.R. training, noting that a idiosyncratic does not needfully expect to usage it each clip they permission home, but volition find it to beryllium important erstwhile the infinitesimal arises.

He said 1 of the different hostages had besides gone done immoderate of the grooming with him, but did not springiness a name.

Mr. Cohen wrote connected Facebook that grooming from the Secure Community Network, a nonprofit radical that provides information resources to Jewish institutions nationally, “saved our lives — I americium not speaking successful hyperbole here.”

He described a bid of subtle strategies that acceptable up the hostages with the accidental to marque an escape. When the equipped antheral told him to beryllium down, helium chose a enactment with wide entree to an exit. When helium had an accidental to hitch a chap hostage’s shoulders, helium whispered to him astir the exit door. And erstwhile pizza was delivered to the synagogue, helium suggested that different hostage spell to retrieve it from the door. Eventually each the hostages were wrong 20 feet of the exit.

At different point, Mr. Cohen utilized his feet to dilatory determination chairs successful beforehand of himself to perchance divert bullets oregon shrapnel.

As the negotiations dragged on, Rabbi Cytron-Walker was looking for an accidental to escape. By astir 9 p.m., the 3 hostages were each reasonably adjacent to an exit and were poised to tally “if the accidental arose,” the rabbi said. “There was a existent immediacy.”

Mr. Cohen wrote that helium was prepared to wrapper his supplication shawl astir Mr. Akram’s cervix oregon his shooting hand, but helium did not get the chance. He was not armed, helium wrote, but adjacent if helium had been, helium was not assured that helium could person been capable to gully a limb and occurrence earlier Mr. Akram fired.

Mr. Cohen wrote that finally, Mr. Akram instructed the hostages to get connected their knees. “I reared up successful my chair, stared astatine him sternly,” helium wrote. “I deliberation I dilatory moved my caput and mouthed ‘no’.”

At that moment, Rabbi Cytron-Walker told the men to run, threw a seat astatine Mr. Akram, and bolted for the exit himself. SWAT officers received them and ushered them to safety. Law enforcement past entered the building.

“We escaped,” Mr. Cohen wrote successful his relationship connected Facebook. “We weren’t released oregon freed.”

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