The Colleyville, Texas, synagogue hostage taker claimed he was convicted terrorist Aafia Siddique’s brother Muhammad Siddiqui, but her lawyer told Heavy in an emailed statement that he was falsely accused and her brother is not involved.
The hostage taker was identified as a British man, Malik Akram. He died in a shooting at the scene, and 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.
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.
The identify of the hostage taker is unknown.
ABC News first reported the fact the suspect claimed to be Muhammad Siddiqui 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, he claimed to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, a woman once called “Lady al Qaeda: The World’s Most Wanted Woman” by Foreign Policy.
As of 5:20 p.m. central time on January 15, 2022, the standoff was still unfolding, 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.” He demanded that his sister be freed in live stream video.
Aafia’s brother’s name is sometimes given as Mohammed Siddiqui.
“Hostage taker is Muhammad Siddiqui and claims to be Aafia Siddiqui’s brother. He is demanding her freedom from an 86-year prison sentence,” reported ABC News’ Aaron Katersky on Twitter. ABC News reported in its story, though, that while the suspect is claiming to be Aafia Siddiqui’s brother, authorities are working to confirm his identity. That tweet came before her lawyer told Daily Beast it wasn’t the brother.
Who is Aafia Siddiqui?
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.
The hostage situation unfolded during religious services at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.
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 later in this article, however. Heavy recorded more than eight minutes of it. The live video was captioned, “CBI Shabbat Morning Service.”
There are no injuries at this time, CNN reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Suspect Said, ‘I Hope I Don’t Have to Shoot Anyone,’ in the Live Video
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.”
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 CAIR statement continued:
We strongly condemn the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. This antisemitic attack against a house of worship is unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly free the hostages and bring them to safety. We want to make it very well known that the hostage-taker is NOT Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s brother, who is not even in the same region where this horrible incident is taking place. We want the hostage-taker to know that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her family strongly condemn this act and do not stand by you. Dr. Aafia’s family has always stood firm in advocating for the release of their sister from incarceration by legal and non-violent means only.
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.
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.”
2. Aafia Siddiqui Is Accused of Having Ties to 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
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.
She was later convicted.
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.”
Foreign Policy explains of Aafia:
Siddiqui was arrested in 2008 in Afghanistan carrying sodium cyanide, as well as documents describing how to make chemical weapons and dirty bombs and how to weaponize Ebola. When FBI and military officials tried to question Siddiqui, she grabbed a weapon left on the table in her interrogation room and fired upon them.
3. Aafia’s Brother Has Worked as a Houston, Texas, Architect
A 2006 Boston Magazine article does confirm that Aafia has a brother named Mohammed, although the article uses a different spelling for the first name.
You can listen to audio of him talking here.
That article says that the siblings’ father was also named Mohammad Siddiqui, and he was a doctor who had three children with his homemaker wife.
The article says that “Mohammed, Aafia’s brother, is an architect living in Houston with his wife, a pediatrician, and their children.” The third sibling, a sister named Fowzia, was “a Harvard-trained neurologist” who eventually went back to Pakistan.
The Boston article says that Aafia moved to Texas in 1990 “to be near her brother” and spent a year at the University of Houston before transferring at MIT.
In that audio of a talk he gave, on Darulislah.org, Aafia’s brother called them “very trying times,” but he said the support the family received was a “blessing.”
He used to tell his sister “that she used to spend too much time trying to help strangers,” he said.
He said “so many labels have been applied to Aafia that her humanity” was lost. The Aafia he knew was and is an “ordinary human being,” he said.
He said she was the youngest child, who was a good student who pursued education and came to the United States for that reason. She came and lived with him in Texas. “Her desire was to seek the best education this nation had to offer.”
4. Police Confirmed They Were ‘Conducting SWAT Operations’
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 man, who has not been formally identified.
5. The Synagogue’s Rabbi Was Among the Hostages, Reports Say
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.”
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.
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