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A week after hostage standoff, Congregation Beth Israel gives thanks for freedom

A photograph of a three-story tan brick synagogue with a stone Star of David on the side.
Brandon Wade/AP
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FR168019 AP
The Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville was empty Saturday as the congregation gathered in a venue across town to hold morning Shabbat services a week after the hostage standoff.

Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville held its first Saturday morning Shabbat service after a hostage standoff gripped headlines across the world a week ago.

The rabbi of the suburban synagogue northeast of Fort Worth led prayers for healing Saturday, sharing teachings on unity, tolerance and peace.

“It just feels so good to study some Torah with you this morning, on every level,” Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker said. "And God willing, taking these words to heart, we will find ways to heal. We will continue to find ways to have peace."

The rabbi led the service in a venue across town because of damage to the synagogue. Midway through the opening blessings, Cytron-Walker paused. It was after a prayer thanking God for freeing the oppressed.

“That idea of being released from oppression, and the notion of freeing the captives, it’s an important principle in Judaism,” he said, “and it’s something that has a whole new meaning in this moment.”

As the service was streamed online, people from Poland, Israel and across the world sent messages of support to the congregation, and praise for Cytron-Walker.

The 11-hour standoff began last week after the gunman was welcomed into the synagogue, saying he needed shelter. He was given tea. After last Saturday's morning service began, Cytron-Walker heard the man cock a handgun.

Cytron-Walker and three others were held hostage for hours while the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team tried to negotiate an end to the standoff. The hostage-taker eventually released one of the men.

The gunman, a British citizen named Malik Faisal Akram, demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is incarcerated at a federal prison in Fort Worth on terrorism charges.

The ordeal came to a stunning end after Cytron-Walker threw a chair at the hostage-taker, allowing all of the hostages to escape without injuries.

Akram died after the standoff ended. The FBI confirmed Friday afternoon that Akram was killed by law enforcement.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno spoke at a press conference Friday in Colleyville, saying the incident is being investigated as both a hate crime and an act of terrorism.

“We believe that he committed an act of terror based on an anti-Semitic worldview in order to secure the release of a convicted terrorist," DeSarno said. "That's what we believe was his motive.”

DeSarno says Akram was in the country 16 days before he took hostages at the synagogue.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office confirmed Friday that Akram was killed by multiple gunshot wounds.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org .You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, considermaking a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.