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ADL Hosts Forum on Texas Hostage Crisis

When a gunman threatened the rabbi and three members of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, it was said that security training and the ability to build bridges with law enforcement and the community helped save them.

That need was stressed by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, FBI Director Christopher Wray and leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) during the hour-long Zoom program on January 21.

During the ADL-sponsored program, 7,500 viewers heard the rabbi speak about the 11-hour ordeal the previous Shabbat morning, which ended when he threw a chair at Malik Faisal Akram, the British national demanding the freedom of Pakistani neuroscientist and convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui from a Fort Worth federal prison. That action allowed him and the two remaining hostages to escape and authorities to move in and kill Akram.

The FBI had a significant presence at the scene along with local law enforcement, and Wray made it clear the FBI had the Jewish community’s back, stressing, “This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional, it was symbolic and we’re not going to tolerate antisemitism in this country.”

Rabbi Cytron-Walker noted he had built strong relationships with other religious and community leaders in Colleyville and with law enforcement. Throughout the crisis he continued to text and email the local police chief because he already had his contact information. The rabbi had training through the FBI, ADL and Secure Community Network.

“We had a security plan in place,” he said. “We had Homeland Security grants that we are working toward helping make things more secure, security cameras that assisted when the FBI needed them. We had a lot of resources because we had done a lot of planning.”

Cheryl Drazin, the ADL’s central division vice president, said she was impressed that when arriving at town hall every person she encountered knew and expressed concern for “Rabbi Charlie.”

In outlining the FBI’s response, Wray said, “Now let me be clear and blunt, the FBI is, and has been, treating Saturday’s events as an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community.”

Within hours the FBI deployed SWAT, two “highly trained” units from its elite hostage rescue team—who ultimately went in the synagogue—and canines. Additionally, its hostage negotiation unit had the assailant on the phone for hours, a move Wray said, “turned out to be pretty important.” Because the attacker had falsely claimed he had a bomb, Wray said the crisis management unit and counter-IED units were also deployed.

“So those folks and others, there were a total of about 60 flown in quickly from our critical incident response group in Quantico, on the ground working with our terrific partners in state and local law enforcement to bring the situation to a safe resolution for the hostages,” noted Wray, adding the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces are continuing the investigation into why the synagogue was attacked.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker said the attacker appeared at the door asking if it had a night shelter but did not arouse any suspicions; it was a bitter-cold day, he had bags of clothes and was invited in for a cup of hot tea. He did not seem nervous and his eyes weren’t darting around.

Akram made it clear he didn’t want to hurt anyone, said Rabbi Cytron-Walker, who compared Akram’s antisemitism to that found in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” He was “under the notion that Jews were more important, in his mind, than everyone else, and that America would do more to save Jews than it would for anyone else…I remember thinking he really believes Jews control the world.”

Akram demanded to speak to Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi at the Central Synagogue in Manhattan, because he thought she was an important rabbi and he knew she played guitar.

“Angela and I laughed about this,” said Rabbi Cytron-Walker. “I thought we were in trouble because I know what he didn’t. I knew that Jews did not control the world.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the events have been a ”painful reminder of the persistence of antisemitism in our society,” but nevertheless, he said he would be in synagogue on Shabbat.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker said he would “continue to wear my yarmulke proudly” and that gathering again at the synagogue together was the first step toward healing.

By Debra Rubin

 

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