Colleyville synagogue rabbi says he threw chair before escaping hostage standoff

The rabbi of a Colleyville synagogue where a gunman took hostages during livestreamed services said Monday that he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hourslong standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told "CBS Mornings" that he let the gunman inside the suburban synagogue Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later, he heard a gun click as he was praying.

Another man held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook on Monday.

"First of all, we escaped. We weren't released or freed," said Cohen, who was one of four people in the synagogue for services that many other Congregation Beth Israel members were watching online.

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Cohen said the men worked to keep the gunman engaged. They talked to the gunman, he lectured them. At one point as the situation devolved, Cohen said the gunman told them to get on their knees. Cohen recalled rearing up in his chair and slowly moving his head and mouthing "no." As the gunman moved to sit back down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled to run.

"The exit wasn't too far away," Cytron-Walker said. "I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired."

Authorities identified the hostage-taker as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m.

The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal "a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted" and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the U.S. The statement followed comments Saturday from the special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas field office that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue "not specifically related to the Jewish community."

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Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. Sadiqqui, also known as Lady-Al Qaeda, is serving an 86-year prison sentence in Fort Worth.

"The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn't getting what he wanted. It didn't look good. It didn't sound good. We were terrified," Cytron-Walker told "CBS Mornings."

Sources told FOX4 Akram had a Taurus 9mm that was purchased in 2019 from someone who had a federal firearms license. It’s not known how Akrum got the weapon.

"So that weapon is being run via serial number also, and that will take it to the last known purchaser of that weapon," said Hector Turango, former Special Agent in Charge Of Dallas FBI. "So then we trace that history and talk to those individuals and kind of figure out who was the last person who had that and that will provide keys as to how it got to where it ultimately ended up with the suspect."

Akrum, a British citizen, arrived in the U.S. in late December via New York's JFK Airport.

It’s not known when and how he got to the Dallas area or who, if anyone, accompanied him to North Texas. Akrum did spend three days at Union Gospel Mission Shelter last week and was last seen there on Jan. 13.

A.J. Irwin was a homeland security deputy director he says this will be a global investigation.

"Was there coordination? Was there help? Was there financing? I think all of that needs to be known or is this a simple case of one person being able to get on an airplane in London and enter the United States through a very effective port of entry at JFK Airport," Irwin said.

FBI agents could still be seen working at the scene on Monday. Those who live nearby were grateful for Saturday’s outcome.

"We really don’t know what to think about it. But we're just glad that none of the hostages were harmed. I don’t know, I don’t know what to think about what’s going on in our world why we have people doing things like this," said resident Cathy Bailey.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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