One Jewish leader says the FBI got it wrong after an official said the Texas synagogue hostage-taker’s demands were “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
A Texas SWAT team responded to Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday after British national Malik Faisal Akram, 44, allegedly entered the building and held four people, including a rabbi, hostage for hours. A livestream of the service was on Facebook during a portion of the hostage situation, before it was taken down.
Investigators said the hostage-taker expressed support for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was sentenced to 86 years in prison in 2010 for attempting to murder and assault U.S. military personnel and was being held at Federal Medical Center Carswell at a prison in Fort Worth.
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After almost 12 hours of negotiations with the hostage-taker, the hostages were freed after a loud bang and the sound of gunfire could be heard at Congregation Beth Israel.
At a news conference after the hostages were released, FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said that “the Texas synagogue hostage taker’s demands were specifically focused on issues not connected to the Jewish community.”
Kenneth Marcus, the founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and former assistant U.S. secretary of eduction for civil rights, disagreed, telling Fox News Digital that “the FBI got it wrong.”
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He said that the attack was “obviously a matter of antisemitism.”
“Failure of the FBI to understand this is something of a pattern with law enforcement in the United States and frankly in Europe. It seems that time after time, we see law enforcement officials fail to understand when an antisemitic incident occurs, even when it’s entirely obvious, and sometimes the results of that are tragic. This time, fortunately, they have not been,” Marcus said.
“If the law enforcement community doesn’t understand what’s going on, they’re not going to be able to address the fallout from this,” he added. “This was not a mere slip-up. It is symptomatic of a widespread failure with law enforcement to understand the problems of antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” Marcus said.
Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, an education organization that educates individuals about Israel and combats antisemitism, told Fox News that the notion the hostage-taker did not target the Jewish community is “insulting and disappointing.”
“Trying to separate Jews from the idea that JEWS were targeted on their holy day at their house of worship, is a mistake and it is insulting and disappointing,” Rothstein said.
“It is also dangerous to downplay an attack against Jewish people as being something else at a time of rising anti-Jewish bigotry that we should all be paying attention to. It makes no sense to try and separate Saturday’s hostage crisis from the people who suffered and who were the most impacted: Jews, their Jewish families and the Jewish world,” she added.
The FBI followed up in a statement late Sunday: “All of us at the FBI are relieved the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, was resolved without physical injury to those taken hostage. We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial, and ethnic groups. We have had a close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community for many years. We continue to work tirelessly with the Secure Community Network, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation, and others to protect members of the Jewish community from all potential threats.”
The bureau continued by clearifying, “This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Preventing acts of terrorism and violence is the number one priority of the FBI.”
Rothstein believes that the FBI official “misspoke” in his comments after the hostage situation ended.
Rothstein said that one reason that the FBI agent could have misspoken is because antisemitism “is not properly identified and condemned, intentionally or out of ignorance. It underscores the needs for a consistent definition.”
“We remain deeply appreciative of the work they did that day to rescue the hostages,” Rothstein said.
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Rothstein said the hostage-taker’s actions throughout the day reveal that he targeted Jewish people.
“The man looked for a synagogue near the airport, had the rabbi contact another rabbi in New York that he felt could move the meter on the release of Aafia Siddiqui, there were antisemitic slurs during his rant as well as by Siddiqui during her trial. There must be no question that he targeted Jews,” Rothstein said.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson contributed to this report.