Houston rabbi on ‘frightening’ Colleyville synagogue hostage situation

Rabbi Brian Strauss with Congregation Beth Yeshurun in Houston, Texas discussed the "frightening" hostage situation at another synagogue in his state, noting that he is now going to "reevaluate everything that we do" and increase security at his place of worship. 

"It is really frightening and scary that the Jewish day of rest, the Sabbath, was disturbed for this particular synagogue of course and really for Jews all over the world," he said on "Fox & Friends Weekend" on Sunday. 

"This is a day of rest, a day to thank God for all the good of our life, to be with our friends and family," Strauss told co-hosts Will Cain, Rachel Campos-Duffy, and Pete Hegseth, noting that the day of rest was "disturbed in such a horrifying way" on Saturday. 

"Thank God everything worked out for the best, but it’s frightening for all of us that attend places of worship in this great country," he went on to say, referencing the fact that all four hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, near Fort Worth, were released without injury. 

The hostage-taker, who has been identified as a British citizen, held the hostages for nearly 11 hours Saturday at the Texas synagogue where he could be heard ranting in a live stream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. 

The FBI and Justice Department previously described the woman, Aafia Siddiqui, as an "al-Qaeda operative and facilitator" at a May 2004 news conference. She is serving an 86-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2010 on charges that she sought to shoot U.S. military members while in Afghanistan two year earlier. 

Supporters of US-detained Pakistani woman Aafia Siddiqui, whose portrait is displayed in a cage, take a part in an anti-US demonstration in Karachi on March 7, 2010. Siddiqui, a neuroscientist trained at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Tec

She has a history of anti-Semitism, including demanding that jurors in her case be DNA tested and removed "if they have a Zionist or Israeli background."

The suspected hostage-taker was killed at the scene and FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said a team would investigate "the shooting incident."

Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, was identified on Sunday as the "hostage taker" at Congregation Beth Israel, DeSarno confirmed in an email to Fox News Digital. 

One of the four hostages was released during the standoff and three others were rescued when authorities entered the building on Saturday night, authorities said. 

According to ABC News, the hostages included the rabbi of the synagogue, who was identified by the Dallas Morning News as Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker wrote that he is "thankful" for "all of the vigils and prayers and love and support," the members of law enforcement who "care for us," and "the security training that helped save us."

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas, on January 15, 2022. - The SWAT police operation was underway at the synagogue where a man claiming to be the br

He went on to write that he is "grateful" for his family and that everyone "made it out." 

"I am grateful to be alive," he stressed. 

More than 200 law enforcement officers had worked on the case Saturday, including hostage-situation negotiators, authorities said.

Authorities and others were worried about a repeat of such tragedies as the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh in October 2018, where 11 people were killed, or the Poway, California, synagogue shooting near San Diego in 2019, where there was one fatality.

"Since the Pittsburgh shooting a few years ago, [at] the Tree of Life Synagogue, I think this is something that unfortunately is part of our lives now," Strauss told "Fox & Friends Weekend" on Sunday. 

He went on to say that "we’re thankful for the relationships that so many synagogues have with our law enforcement officials."

"We all work with them," Strauss continued. "We all have our own security now. We all know our security guards. They’re part of what we do."

He stressed that having security on hand at all times is hard, explaining that "any good place of worship, a synagogue, a church, mosque, we want to welcome people, welcome them with open arms…"

"But at the same time, when we don’t know someone we have to be a little bit suspicious."

"You just never know," Strauss continued, noting that "it’s a shame because it goes against what we try to do in our synagogue" and other places of worship.

He went on to stress his intentions to learn from what happened at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, stating, "we’re going to increase our security and try to be even safer with what we do."

Strauss also said that his congregation and others will focus on bringing "more light into the world to erase this act of darkness."

"That is how we have always responded as Jewish people, so I know a lot of good will come out of this really horrific day," he continued. 

In another interview on "Fox & Friends Weekend" on Sunday, Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, acknowledged that the situation could have been "a lot rougher." Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville is in her district. 

"We are all very thankful," she said on Sunday, referencing the fact that all four hostages were not harmed. "Our prayers have been answered." 

She added that "a lot of miracles happened" on Saturday, including the fact that just four people were in the synagogue at the time when roughly 50 people were there the night before. She also cited the fact that the situation was live-streamed and, therefore, "gave the police a little bit of a heads-up of what was going on."

Van Duyne, however, noted that many questions remain unanswered on Sunday. 

"Did this man act alone? Who is he? Where does he come from? Is this a group effort?"

"We understand that his motivation was to get a criminal released from a prison that’s about 23 miles away from that synagogue, but is that his only motivation?" she posited.

The FBI is facing backlash on social media after DeSarno said on Saturday night that the Texas synagogue hostage taker’s demands were "not specifically related to the Jewish community."

DeSarno went on to say that "we are continuing to work to find [a] motive." 

He also said that there was no immediate indication that the suspect was part of any broader plan, but added that the agency’s investigation "will have global reach."

Van Duyne said Sunday morning that she doesn’t believe "anything has been cut-out just yet." 

She acknowledged that anti-Semitism, violence and attacks "are absolutely up."

"Hate crimes are up across the country, but considering that Jews make up 2% of the American population and yet nearly 60% of all hate crimes are anti-Semitic, there is definitely an issue going on," she continued.

Jewish people in the United States are the target of 58 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the country, The Jerusalem Post reported in August citing recently released FBI statistics for 2020.

"Quite honestly the rhetoric that you are hearing from the far left, the progressive ‘Squad’ is not helping," Van Duyne said.  

"We’re making sure that the investigations are happening, finding out this motivation, how far this is ranging and addressing that," she continued. 

An FBI spokesperson and DeSarno did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on Sunday.

Fox News’ Emma Colton, Adam Sabes, Dom Calicchio, Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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