On Saturday, January 15, a hostage situation unfolded at the Congregation Beth Israel during Shabbat services in Colleyville, Texas. A total of four hostages were held inside the synagogue, and all four managed to escape after more than ten hours. One hostage was released during negotiations. The man who held the hostages was a 44-year-old British citizen, Malik Faisal Akram, who died from gunshot wounds after FBI agents made their way into the building.
The FBI has continued to investigate the situation and possible conspirators. The incident is currently being treated as both a hate crime and an act of terrorism. Possible motivations include the imprisonment of a Pakistani woman named Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui has been serving her sentence in a Texas prison since 2010. She was convicted on charges of attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan, and she has long been suspected as a member of terrorist organizations. During the hostage situation, the attacker made demands for her release and at multiple points demanded to speak on the phone with “his sister,” a comment that authorities are continuing to investigate. Additionally, UK police currently have interviewed at least two men in the UK in connection with the case. According to CNN, FBI Director Christopher Wray added in a statement, “This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional. It was symbolic, and we’re not going to tolerate anti-Semitism in this country.”
Rabbi Charlie Cryton-Walker, the lead rabbi at the synagogue, was one of the four hostages. Cryton-Walker is originally from Lansing, Michigan and attended the University of Michigan, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is known throughout the community as a leader in many interfaith events and organizations. According to ABC News, the remaining hostages were able to finally escape after Cryton-Walker threw a chair at the attacker. In a statement, he said, “I stand up here before you with great gratitude just to be alive. With gratitude to God, with gratitude for all of those individual human efforts that allow us to be here today, I’m just overflowing with gratitude,” according to ABC News.
This attack is just one of many recent antisemitic attacks both in the US and around the world. Antisemitism is on the rise, and according to the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish people and Jewish institutions are consistently the most targeted of any religious community in the US. Since 2016, Jewish people or institutions were the targets of at least 21 major terrorist plots or threats. The attack on the Congregation Beth Israel was a painful reminder of the tragic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. Eleven people were killed and seven were injured after a white supremacist started shooting during services at the Pittsburgh congregation. The mass shooting was the deadliest antisemitic attack ever in the US.
In a statement released by President Biden, he highlighted taking a stand against antisemitism, as well as thanking all who helped the hostages make it to safety. “We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community. 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 antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud.”
In a service after the attack, Rabbi Cryton-Walker again thanked the many individuals who sent support in wake of the attack. The interfaith service emphasized the need for healing and cooperation going forward. During the service, Cryton-Walker added, “Look for ways to show that love as we look for ways to share that love and strive to live with human decency, something every human being is entitled to. We’re not entitled to much, but everybody needs that,” according to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram.