Charlie Cytron-Walker: Colleyville Rabbi Was Among Hostages

charlie cytron-walker

Facebook/synagogue website Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was one of the people who was taken hostage during a Jewish religious service at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. All of the hostages are now safe.

In a news conference, authorities said the hostages are unharmed and the hostage taker was killed in a shooting, although it’s not clear who fired the shot. Some hostages were seen running out of a door.

After he was freed, Cytron-Walker wrote on Facebook:

I am thankful and filled with appreciation for
All of the vigils and prayers and love and support,
All of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us,
All of the security training that helped save us.
I am grateful for my family.
I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community.
I am grateful that we made it out.
I am grateful to be alive.

The identity of the hostage taker was released as Malik Akram, a British man, who is accused of falsely claiming to be convicted terrorist Aafia Siddique’s brother Muhammad Siddiqui, while advocating for her release. Her lawyer said in a statement emailed to Heavy that her family is not involved. The Dallas Morning-News confirmed that Cytron-Walker was among the hostages.

As of 7:30 p.m. central time on January 15, 2022, the standoff was still unfolding, and had been for hours, and the FBI was involved. ABC News reported that the “armed suspect claiming to have bombs in unknown locations took a rabbi and three others hostage.” JTA.org reported that the suspect has released one of the four hostages, a man who was not named.

Cytron-Walker is the rabbi at the Congregation Beth Israel, where the hostage-taking occurred.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Cytron-Walker, Who Is From Michigan, Is the Congregation’s First Full-Time Rabbi

The congregation’s rabbi is Charlie Cytron-Walker. A biography for the rabbi on the synagogue’s website says that “Charlie Cytron-Walker has been the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX since 2006. He is CBI’s first full-time rabbi.”

It continues:

Rabbi Charlie is originally from Lansing, Michigan and he graduated from the University of Michigan in 1998. Among other college experiences, he spent forty-eight hours on the streets as someone who was homeless and danced for over twenty-four hours as a part of a Dance Marathon. After graduating, Rabbi Charlie worked at Focus: HOPE, a civil and human rights organization in Detroit, Michigan, and then became the assistant director of the Amherst Survival Center, which housed a food pantry, free store, and soup kitchen in North Amherst, Massachusetts.

Rabbi Charlie attended Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at its Jerusalem and Cincinnati campuses, receiving his rabbinical ordination in 2006 and M.A. in Hebrew Letters in 2005. His rabbinical thesis was titled, “Jewish Service-Learning: Integrating Talmud Torah and Ma’asim Tovim”. As a student, he served congregations in Ishpeming, MI, Fort Walton Beach, FL, and Cincinnati, OH. During his time at HUC-JIR, he received multiple awards for his service to the community, along with an award for leadership from QESHET: A Network of LGBT Reform Rabbis.

He is married with two daughters.


2. The Synagogue Describes Itself as a ‘Vibrant Reform Jewish Congregation’; Cytron-Walker Advocated for LGBT Rights Recently on Social Media

The synagogue describes itself this way on its Facebook page, “A vibrant Reform Jewish Congregation committed to providing life-long opportunities for spiritual growth and learning based on Jewish values. CBI was established July 18, 1999.”

On Facebook, Cytron-Walker’s top post advocates for LGBT rights. He wrote:

I’ve just come to realize that many of my rabbinic colleagues have been posting over the past week various versions of support for the LGBTQ+ community. They have acknowledged the great fear that many have that with Justice Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court that their rights to marry and their rights to be protected from discrimination are in jeopardy. I heard a little of that fear earlier today.

It is my most sincere hope and expectation that such hard-fought rights will indeed be protected by the courts and protected by every level of the government. At the same time – for all who are fearful, I am here to support you. If you need to talk or if you need assistance or if you need to know that you’re not alone, I am here to support you.

I have great appreciation for the distance that the LGBTQ+ community has travelled in my lifetime and there is more work to be done. Acceptance is far from universal. It is my prayer that love and respect and understanding will only grow in the years to come.

During the pandemic, the church held Zoom services at times that Cytron-Walker posted on Facebook.

Colleyville police have not released much information.

Colleyville Police wrote on Twitter, “We are currently conducting SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd. All residents in the immediate area are being evacuated. Please avoid the area.”

The police added, “UPDATE 1/15/22, 1:20 PM The situation at the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Road posted about earlier remains ongoing. We ask that you continue to avoid the area. We will continue to provide updates via social media.”

According to the Star-Telegram, police were negotiating with the suspect, who has not been formally identified.


3. Cytron-Walker Was Called a ‘Good Friend’ of All of the Dallas Area Clergy

Prayers flowed in for Cytron-Walker during the hostage-taking situation.

“He’s a good friend and colleague of all of the Dallas area clergy,” said Rabbi Daniel Utley, who is vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas, to Cleveland Jewish News.

Utley told the publication of Congregation Beth Israel, “I understand it’s a wonderful family synagogue that has a very active teen program and just a wonderful part of the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) community.”


4. The Hostage Taker Asked Cytron-Walker to Call a Rabbi in New York, Reports Say

Tom Winter, of NBC News, tweeted, “The hostage taker at the synagogue in Texas had the rabbi call a different rabbi in New York City. The purpose of the call was to again demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui. The New York City based rabbi called 9-1-1 and the NYPD is well aware of the incident.”

ABC News first reported the fact the suspect claimed to be Muhammad Siddiqui, the brother of Aafia, but indicated law enforcement authorities were still trying to verify whether it was true. The accused Colleyville, Texas, synagogue hostage taker barged into religious services and was recorded on Facebook live ranting about religion and dying, according to ABC News.

According to ABC’s Aaron Katersky, the hostage taker claimed to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, a woman once called “Lady al Qaeda: The World’s Most Wanted Woman” by Foreign Policy.

In a statement emailed to Heavy, Houston Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Houston) Board Chair John Floyd and legal counsel for the brother of Dr. Aafia, condemned the synagogue hostage taking situation and said that the “assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia” or her family. The statement read, in part:

This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia. We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia. On behalf of the family and Dr. Aafia, we call on you to immediately release the hostages and turn yourself in. The CAIR-Houston office has represented Dr. Aafia’s brother since 2004. We have confirmed that the family member being wrongly accused of this heinous act is not near the DFW Metro area. We call on the reporters that claimed this man to be a member of Dr. Aafia’s family to correct their reports and issue an apology to the Siddiqui family.

“Aafia Siddiqui’s biological brother, Muhammad, is not the person holding hostages inside the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, his lawyer has told The Daily Beast,” the site reported on Twitter.

Who is Aafia Siddiqui?

According to Counter Extremism,

Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani citizen and U.S.-educated neuroscientist who allegedly belonged to an al-Qaeda cell in Pakistan. She is currently serving an 86-year sentence in U.S. federal prison for assaulting U.S. federal agents, employees, and nationals during a 2008 interrogation in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has lobbied for her release while al-Qaeda and other extremist groups have repeatedly demanded Siddiqui’s release in exchange for hostages.

There are no injuries at this time, CNN reported.


3. The Suspect Said, ‘I Hope I Don’t Have to Shoot Anyone,’ in a Facebook Live Video

The suspect was captured talking on the synagogue’s Facebook Live Stream until the video was taken down.

Jessika Harkey, a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, wrote on Twitter, “At the scene in Colleyville where a local synagogue is being held hostage. The Congregation Beth Israel, located at 6100 Pleasant Run Rd., was in the middle of a service when a gunman entered. A livestream of the service remains ongoing during the situation.”

The live Facebook video suddenly ended just before 2 p.m. central time and was removed from Facebook, but not before Heavy listened to some of it. You can watch some of the video above, however. Heavy recorded more than eight minutes of it. The live video was captioned, “CBI Shabbat Morning Service.”

The live stream video on the church Facebook page captured a man talking. “I will go down dying” and “I’ve lived on these feet for 14 days,” he said at different points of the live video.

The video featured audio of the man ranting for a lengthy period of time, but it did not show video images of what was going on inside the synagogue.

“I hope I don’t have to shoot anyone,” he said at another point, as hundreds of Facebook users listened online. He also said, “At this point in time, we have no casualties.” He also talked about praying.

Facebook

People who were listening to the live stream wrote comments on the video thread, including these:

“He wants to talk to his sister to say goodbye. They have to delay this.”

“Please report the video.”

Soon thereafter, the video was taken down.

CNN reported that the FBI was at the scene. “The FBI negotiators are the ones who have contact with the person in the building,” Colleyville Police Sgt Dara Nelson told CNN, adding that there is “no threat to the general public.”

A 2008 news release from the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of Aafia Siddiqui.

She was accused in the “attempted murder and assault of United States nationals and officers and employees,” the news release said. The indictment was filed in Manhattan federal court. It alleged:

On July 18, 2008, a team of United States servicemen and law enforcement officers, and others assisting them, attempted to interview Aafia Siddiqui in Ghazni, Afghanistan, where she had been detained by local police the day before. The United States interview team included, among others: three officers and employees of the United States Army; two officers and employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and two United States Army contract interpreters.

The interview of Siddiqui was to take place at an Afghan police compound in Ghazni. In a second-floor meeting room at the compound — where Siddiqui was being held, unbeknownst to the United States interview team, unsecured, behind a curtain — Siddiqui obtained one of the United States Army officer’s M-4 rifle and attempted to fire it, and did fire it, at another United States Army officer and other members of United States interview team. Siddiqui repeatedly stated her intent and desire to kill Americans.

Siddiqui then assaulted one of the United States Army interpreters, as he attempted to obtain the M-4 rifle from her. Siddiqui subsequently assaulted one of the FBI agents and one of the United States Army officers, as they attempted to subdue her.

On the previous day, July 17, 2008, when Siddiqui was detained by Afghan authorities, a number of items were in her possession, including handwritten notes that referred to a ‘mass casualty attack’ and that listed various locations in the United States, including Plum Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Other notes in Siddiqui’s possession referred to the construction of ‘dirty bombs,’ and discussed various ways to attack “enemies,” including by destroying reconnaissance drones, using underwater bombs, and using gliders. Siddiqui also possessed a computer thumb drive that contained correspondence referring to specific ‘cells,’ ‘attacks’ by certain ‘cells,’ and ‘enemies.’ Other documents on the thumb drive discussed recruitment and training.

At that time, the indictment said that Aafia Siddiqui was “a 36-year-old Pakistani woman” who “resided in the United States from in or about 1991 until June 2002, and obtained degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University. Siddiqui returned to the United States on December 25, 2002, and departed on January 2, 2003.”

The release said:

Siddiqui is charged in the Indictment with: (1) one count of attempting to kill United States nationals outside the United States; (2) one count of attempting to kill United States officers and employees; (3) one count of armed assault of United States officers and employees; (4) one count of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and (5) three counts of assault of United States officers and employees.

According to Counter Extremism, “on February 3, 2010, Following a two-week trial in New York City, Siddiqui was convicted of all charges against her. She was never charged with terrorism-related offenses. Thousands protested across Pakistan following her conviction. That September, Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison.”

The site reported that Siddiqui’s imprisonment has made her a “superstar” among terrorist groups and in Pakistan.

Foreign Policy reported that Aafia “who’s known in counterterrorism circles as ‘Lady al Qaeda,’ has been linked to 9/11 ringleader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and was once on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists list.”

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