Two men were arrested in the UK cities of Birmingham and Manchester on Thursday morning as part of the investigation into last weekend’s Texas synagogue hostage standoff, Greater Manchester Police said.
The men remained in custody for questioning as UK counterterrorism investigators support US authorities in probing the incident that has put American Jewish communties on edge. The FBI is investigating Saturday’s standoff as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted,” the bureau has said.
The FBI identified Malik Faisal Akram, a British national, as the man who held four people hostage at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue in an 11-hour standoff. An FBI team killed Akram after one hostage was released and three escaped.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday the agency is treating the hostage standoff as “act of terrorism” and “enduring threats to the Jewish community” throughout the country continue “to be among our very highest” priorities for the agency.
“This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional. It was symbolic and we’re not going to tolerate anti-semitism in this country,” Wray said at a virtual event hosted by the Anti-Defamation League. “We recognize that the Jewish community in particular has suffered violence and faces very real threats from, really, across the hate spectrum.”
Akram, 44, had been known to UK security services and had been the subject of a brief investigation in 2020, a UK official told CNN on Tuesday. That investigation was closed when authorities determined Akram to no longer be a threat.
In late December, he arrived in the United States via New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, a US law enforcement source familiar with the investigation told CNN.
Investigators believe Akram was motivated in the hostage-taking by a desire to see the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year federal prison sentence in Fort Worth, they’ve said. She was not involved in the Colleyville standoff, her attorney said.
Two teenagers arrested Sunday in south Manchester were released without charge on Tuesday, according to PA Media, a UK-based news agency.
Heroic rabbi set to leave congregation
The final three hostages’ daring escape late Saturday as Akram’s mood deteriorated was led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who credited security training for preparing them “to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”
Cytron-Walker will leave Congregation Beth Israel in June, spokeswoman Jennifer Farmer told CNN on Wednesday.
“The rabbi had been planning to transition. He’d been with the congregation for 16 years. While this transition was already planned, right now he is singularly focused on healing from the tragedy of the past weekend,” Farmer said.
CNN’s Travis Caldwell, Amir Vera, Jason Hanna and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.