Texas synagogue hostage taker ‘dropped off’ at homeless shelter by man who hugged him, pastor says

The British suspect who died after allegedly taking Jewish worshippers hostage at a Texas synagogue stayed at Dallas-area homeless shelters, and a pastor contacted the FBI claiming to have witnessed the suspect being “dropped off” at one shelter by someone who hugged him and appeared to know him. 

Weeks before Saturday’s nearly 11-hour-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, ended with suspected gunman, 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, dead and the hostages safe, Akram was brought to a shelter in downtown Dallas on Jan. 2 by a man who hugged him and had conversations with him, said Wayne Walker, CEO and pastor of OurCalling, which provides services to homeless people. 

“He was dropped off by somebody that looked like he had a relationship with him,” Walker told The Associated Press, adding that they’ve since turned photos and video over to the FBI.

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Akram arrived in the U.S. on a tourist visa from Great Britain, The Associated Press reported, citing a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public.

After staying at the OurCalling facility on Jan. 2, he stayed in another Dallas homeless shelter.

Akram stayed three nights between Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 at Union Gospel Mission Dallas, the homeless shelter’s CEO, Bruce Butler, told CNN. According to their records, Akram left there for the last time on Jan. 13 – two days before he took the hostages at the synagogue.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said Akram knocked on the glass door of the synagogue Saturday morning. The rabbi let Akram in and made him tea, thinking he needed shelter. Cytron-Walker explained how he sat with the man and then during morning prayer, heard a click, which turned out to be a gun.

Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist known in counterterrorism circles as “Lady Al Qaeda” who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. She is imprisoned in nearby Fort Worth. U.S. Muslim groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have been lobbying for her release. 

“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”

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Cytron-Walker said he drew from his past hostage training with the FBI, local police, Anti-Defamation League and Secure Communities Network during the incident, deciding in the last hour to first make sure the other hostages were ready to run before the rabbi suddenly hurled a chair at the suspect. 

Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, The Associated Press reported, citing a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

People demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted in February 2010 of two counts of attempted murder and who is currently being detained in the U.S., during International Women’s Day in Karachi, Pakistan, March 8, 2011.
(AP Photo/Fareed Khan, File)

Two teenagers were detained in Manchester, England, on Sunday in connection to the investigation into the Texas hostage incident, according to Greater Manchester Police, which only disclosed that antiterrorism officers made the arrests but did not specify whether charges were brought.  

The AP reported the teens were Akram’s sons, citing two anonymous U.S. law enforcement officials. One of the officials said investigators believe Akram was in contact with his sons in the hours before the standoff and are working to discern what information he may have shared with them. 

Malik Faisal Akram’s brother, Gulbar Akram, released a statement through the Blackburn Muslim Community detailing how he was called into a police station in Greenbank, where he worked in an incident room with terrorism police liaising with the FBI and negotiators during the hostage incident.

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In an interview with the New York Times, Gulbar Akram said he spoke to his brother during the siege happening some 5,000 miles away to talk him down. Without providing many details, Gulbar told the newspaper his brother was known to counterterrorism police. He also said Faisal had mental health issues, worsened after the recent death of their other brother from the coronavirus.

At a service held Monday evening at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker said the amount of “well-wishes and kindness and compassion” has been overwhelming.

“Thank you for all of the compassion, from the bottom of my heart,” Cytron-Walker said. “While very few of us are doing OK right now, we’ll get through this.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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