Following backlash, FBI calls synagogue incident a terror attack against Jewish community

The bureau initially claimed the actions of a British man who took four hostages at a Texas synagogue did not target Jewish community.

Updated: January 17, 2022 - 8:26am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An FBI hostage rescue team helped saved lives Saturday night following an all-day stand-off with a British man who had taken hostages at a Texas synagogue. On Sunday, however, the FBI public relations team confused the public for hours after saying that the hostage taker was not targeting the Jewish community.

Following the release of the hostages and a shootout that left 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram dead, an FBI representative told reporters at the scene that the hostage taker "was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community."

Akram had reportedly been focused on the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui – also known as 'Lady Al-Qaeda' – a Pakistani neuroscientist, who was sentenced to 86 years in prison for the attempted murder of two U.S. officers in Afghanistan.

The FBI's initial statement was met a predictable backlash, prompting the agency to clarify its position Sunday evening. 

In a statement from Acting Section Chief Susan McKee, the bureau said, "All of us at the FBI are relieved the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, was resolved without physical injury to those taken hostage. We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial, and ethnic groups. We have had a close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community for many years."

"This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force," the statement said.

Also on Sunday, two teenagers – reportedly the sons of Malik Faisal Akram – were arrested in England in connection with the hostage incident. The FBI's field office had previously stated that there was "no indication" that anyone else was involved with the attack on the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue.

In a Facebook post, a man who identified himself as Akram's brother condemned the hostage taker’s actions and claimed that the suspect had suffered from mental health issues.

"We would like to say that we as a family do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologize wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident," he wrote.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the hostages taken Saturday, credited the congregation's previous security training from the FBI and other security forces with the group's ability to survive the traumatizing experience. 

"Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and Secure Community Network. We are alive today because of that education. I encourage all Jewish congregations, religious groups, schools, and others to participate in active-shooter and security courses."

Cytron-Walker said that during the final hour of the crisis, "the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening. Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself."