A rabbi who was among four Jewish congregants taken captive at a synagogue in the US state of Texas during the weekend has said that he and others escaped after he threw a chair at the hostage-taker and then rushed for an exit door.
Authorities identified the hostage-taker as a 44-year-old British national, Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last hostages ran out of Congregation Beth Israel near Fort Worth, Texas, about 9pm local time (03:00 GMT on Sunday).
It was unclear if Akram died by suicide or was killed by members of an FBI hostage rescue team.
The suspect knocked on the synagogue’s door during Sabbath prayers and was invited in and offered tea, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told CBS.
Cytron-Walker then returned to prayer, after which he said he “heard a click – and it could have been anything – but it turned out it was his gun”.
One hostage was released unharmed after six hours of tense negotiations conducted with help from the family of the suspect.
Still held captive with two others, Walker said he drew on previous hostage training from the FBI when determining if and when he should try to escape.
“When I saw an opportunity where he wasn’t in a good position, I made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me, that they were ready to go, [and that] the exit wasn’t too far away,” Cytron-Walker said.
“I told them to go. I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door, and all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
The FBI’s hostage rescue team then raided the synagogue.
The agency on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating.
The FBI noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the US.
Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted in 2010 of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan and sentenced to 86 years in prison.
Her punishment had sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and supporters, who viewed her as victimised by the American criminal justice system. A lawyer for Siddiqui said she had no involvement in the hostage situation.
Meanwhile, the investigation has stretched to England, where late on Sunday police in Manchester announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff.
Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counterterrorism officers had made the arrests but did not say whether the pair faced any charges.
Video of the standoff from ABC affiliate WFAA-TV in Dallas showed people running out of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it.
Moments later, several rounds of gunfire could be heard, followed by the sound of an explosion.
Cytron-Walker said previous security training at his suburban Fort Worth congregation across the years allowed him and the other three hostages to make it through the 10-hour ordeal, which he described as traumatic.
“In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” the rabbi said in a statement. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”
Federal investigators believe Akram bought the handgun used in the hostage-taking in a private sale, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press news agency.
Akram arrived in the US at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.
President Joe Biden told reporters on Sunday that the incident “was an act of terror”.
“Allegedly – I don’t have all the facts, nor does the attorney general – but allegedly the assertion was he got the weapons on the street,” said Biden, who has sought to tighten US gun laws amid rising crime and mass shootings.