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North Texas Rabbi Says He's 'Grateful To Be Alive' After Being Held Hostage 10 Hours Saturday

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - The North Texas rabbi who was held hostage along with three other captives for approximately 10 hours on Saturday, took to Facebook Sunday morning to let everyone know how thankful he is and "grateful to be alive."

He thanked everyone for their prayers and thanked law enforcement and first responders for helping ultimately get everyone out safely.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville posted the following message:

I am thankful and filled with appreciation for
All of the vigils and prayers and love and support,
All of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us,
All of the security training that helped save us.
I am grateful for my family.
I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community.
I am grateful that we made it out.
I am grateful to be alive.

Cytron-Walker has been the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville since 2006, according to the synagogue's website.

He has worked to bring a sense of spirituality, compassion and learning to the community, according to his biography on the temple's website, and he loves welcoming everyone, including LGBT people, into the congregation.

Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said the congregation has about 140 members and that Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community, including doing pulpit swaps and participating in a community peace walk. She described Saturday's events as "surreal."

"This is unlike anything we've ever experienced. You know, it's a small town and it's a small congregation," Eisen said as the hostage situation was ongoing. "No matter how it turns out, it's hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be."

Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies worked together to save the hostages.

Authorities said a man apparently took hostages Saturday during services where the suspect could be heard ranting angrily in a livestream before the feed cut out.

The hostage-taker — a British national the FBI later identified as Malik Faisal Akram.— could be heard ranting on a livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.

One hostage was released during the Saturday standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville and the three others got out at around 9 p.m. when an FBI SWAT team entered the building, authorities said. The hostage-taker was killed, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said a team would investigate "the shooting incident." But FBI and police spokeswomen declined to answer questions about who shot the man.

DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community, and there was no immediate indication that the man was part of any broader plan. But DeSarno said the agency's investigation "will have global reach."

It wasn't clear why the attacker chose the synagogue.

Law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity earlier said the hostage-taker demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who is in a federal prison in Texas. He also said he wanted to be able to speak with her, according to the officials, one of whom confirmed that the hostage-taker was a British national.

DeSarno said Saturday night that the man had been identified "but we are not prepared to release his identity or confirm his identity at this time."

A rabbi in New York City received a call from the rabbi believed to be held hostage in the synagogue to demand Siddiqui's release, a law enforcement official said. The New York rabbi then called 911.

Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after that, FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said.

Saturday's services were being livestreamed on the synagogue's Facebook page for a time.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, "You got to do something. I don't want to see this guy dead." Moments later, the feed cut out. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.

Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his "sister" on the livestream. But John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, — the nation's largest Muslim advocacy group — said Siddiqui's brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.

"This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia. We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia," said Floyd, who also is legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui. "We have confirmed that the family member being wrongly accused of this heinous act is not near the DFW Metro area."

Texas resident Victoria Francis told the AP that she watched about an hour of the livestream before it cut out. She said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb.

"He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he'd make more threats, like 'I'm the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.' And he'd laugh at that," she said. "He was clearly in extreme distress."

Francis, who grew up near Colleyville, tuned in after she read about the hostage situation. She said it sounded like the man was talking to the police department on the phone, with the rabbi and another person trying to help with the negotiations.

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a leafy residential neighborhood that includes several churches, a middle and elementary school and a horse farm.

President Joe Biden issued a statement thanking law enforcement after the hostage situation ended.

"There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate—we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country," Biden said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that he had been monitoring the situation closely. "This event is a stark reminder that antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide," he wrote. He said he was "relieved and thankful" that the hostages were rescued.

The standoff prompted increased security in other places, including New York City, where police said that they increased their presence "at key Jewish institutions" out of an abundance of caution.

Aafia Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges that she assaulted and shot at U.S. Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as victimized by the American criminal justice system.

In the years since, Pakistani officials have expressed interest publicly in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from U.S. custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters. In 2018, for instance, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attack the prison where Siddiqui is being held in an attempt to free her was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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