SWAT: Texas Rabbi Held Hostage for More Than 10 Hours


Reagan Farnsworth, Contributor

In the 21st century, shootings have become a rapidly growing crisis. Since the infamous Columbine Shooting in 1999, there have been 59 fatal school shootings. Church shootings, although less-occuring, are also a concern. According to Lifeway Research there have been 18 church shootings within the same time frame and in Texas there have been the most church shootings than any other state. 

On Saturday, January 15, 2022 a rabbi and three other hostages were taken by 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram at their synagogue in Texas. Before beginning the Saturday services, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker let Akram into Congregation Beth Israel and offered him a cup of tea. Akram accepted and stayed while Walker conducted the first prayer of the service, in which he was facing away from the small congregation.  The service was also being live streamed on Facebook for those who could not attend in-person due to Covid-19. At this point, Rabbi Walker invited the suspect to stay for the duration and also gave him the option to leave. This is when he pulled out a gun and held 4 people hostage for the next 10 hours. 

The first 911 call was placed around 11 AM and the surrounding suburban neighborhoods were evacuated shortly after. Local police and S.W.A.T. responded to the hostage situation. Akram ranted about many issues to the Rabbi and others including his problems with Muslims and America, as well as other groups. He expressed his frustration concerning the detainment of Dr. Siddiqui, who is a Pakistani neuroscientist. Siddiqui, who he referred to as his “sister” throughout the duration of the situation, was believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda and suspected to be responsible for assassination attempts of U.S. officers in Afghanistan. He became irritated and demanded her release, which could be heard on the Facebook live stream. 

Rabbi Walker talked with Mary Louise Kelly of All Things Considered, in which he recounted how he escaped. Around 9 PM, Walker had handed the suspect a cup of juice and took the opportunity, as he was distracted, to throw a near chair at Akram and yelled for the others to run. He said how he tried to treat the suspect with as much compassion as he could. Without his quick thinking and kindness, the situation could have ended much worse. Once the hostages escaped, law enforcement and S.W.A.T. officers fired shots, killing Akram. The authorities have not released the name of the officer that killed Akram. 

Akram was a British Citizen who was visiting the US on a tourist visa and according to Lexipol,London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with U.S. authorities about the incident.”  Two teenagers in Great Britain have been arrested with suspicion with a connection to the standoff. It is also believed that  the subject of the hostage situation was not connected with the synagogue. 

Rabbi Charlie has opened his heart saying, “We are imperfect human beings. Whether we’re in a synagogue, a church or a mosque, whether we are religious or not … we are imperfect human beings trying to live the best we can.” He even has said he is not opposed to offering a stranger tea and refuge again. His compassion and kindness is a reminder of the good in our world.