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How a rabbi and other hostages made it out safely from a Texas synagogue


Details are emerging about how a man took several people hostage at a Texas synagogue over the weekend. The assailant, 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, knocked at the entrance to Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Saturday morning. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker let him in, thinking he needed shelter. The rabbi made the man a cup of tea and chatted with him before joining his congregation for prayers. That is when the encounter took a turn.


CHARLIE CYTRON-WALKER: I heard a click. And it could have been anything, and it turned out that it was his gun.

MARTÍNEZ: Talking to "CBS Mornings" there, Rabbi Cytron-Walker detailed what it was like to be held hostage with a few other congregants for nearly 11 hours.


CYTRON-WALKER: The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn't getting what he wanted. He was getting - it didn't look good. It didn't sound good. We were very - we were terrified.

MARTÍNEZ: I spoke earlier with NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas, where he's been following this story. I asked him first about that act of charity on the part of the rabbi toward a man who appeared to need some.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Yeah, it's painful to have this story began with this act of kindness. So it's Saturday. There's a Shabbat service about to begin. And that's when Akram pulls a gun and begins to angrily voice commands at the rabbi. And that gets heard by a group of worshippers who are listening to the service on the web, and a couple of them called 911, and that's how it all began.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, we've been hearing a lot about how the assailant repeatedly pressed law enforcement for the release of a Pakistani scientist currently imprisoned in Texas. What else have you learned about that?

GOODWYN: Yeah. He wanted the release of this convicted Pakistani woman. Her name is Aafia Siddiqui, and she was connected to al-Qaida. She's now in federal prison near Fort Worth, which is not that far from the synagogue. And in 2008, she was convicted of trying to kill a group of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan while she was being interrogated, and somehow she managed to grab a M-4 rifle and started shooting. But she couldn't hit anyone, and she was shot in the stomach by the interrogator. And eventually, she's, you know, shipped to the U.S. and sentenced to 86 years, you know. And during the standoff we just had, Akram's brother, who helped English authorities by trying to talk his brother into releasing the hostages, has told the press his brother was very seriously mentally ill, and he was surprised Akram even managed to get into the U.S.

MARTÍNEZ: Wade, how did the hostages wind up getting free?

CYTRON-WALKER: Well, I mean, the oldest man was somewhat infirm (ph). He got released at 5. And after 9 p.m. it got to get bad, and Akram was getting furious with the FBI, and the rabbi thought it was time to try to escape. They were near an exit. And that's when Akram told them to get down on their knees, and the rabbi shook his head no, reached down, grabbed a chair, threw it at Akram, and the three of them bolted out of the exit door like lightning and disappeared into the darkness. Akram followed, opened the door there a little bit, couldn't see them, so he went back inside. And then seconds later, the FBI attacked him.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn talking to us from Dallas, Texas. Wade, thanks.

GOODWYN: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.