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Texas rabbi describes moment he threw a chair at gunman in hostage stand-off

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A sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas, on January 16, 2022./AFP
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Jan 18, 2022 - 03:31 AM

WASHINGTON — The rabbi of a Texas synagogue that was the scene of a hostage stand-off recounted Monday how he threw a chair at the gunman, allowing those being held to escape.

During the “last hour” of the 10-hour ordeal Saturday their captor “wasn’t getting what he wanted,” Charlie Cytron-Walker, rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in the small town of Colleyville, near Dallas, told CBS.

“It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good,” he said.

“It was terrifying,” he added, his voice still marked by emotion. “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.”

The exit wasn’t far away from them, he 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 has identified their captor as a British national named Malik Faisal Akram, 44.

Including the rabbi, Akram took four people hostage Saturday in the synagogue in what President Joe Biden has described as an “act of terror.”

He appears to have been demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist sentenced in 2010 by a New York federal court to 86 years in prison on terrorism charges.

One of the hostages was released after several hours of negotiations, while the other three were freed by evening, all safe and sound.

But Akram died after a police intervention involving gunfire. Details have not yet been released, and it is not clear if he killed himself or was killed by law enforcement.

Cytron-Walker explained that he has received security training, including from the police, on how to react in active shooter situations.

“They really teach you in those moments that when your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety. You need to do whatever you can to get out,” he said.

He added that religious leadership training also conveyed “the idea of being a calm, non-anxious presence … I did the best I could to do that throughout the standoff.”

Akram had reportedly initially knocked on the door of the synagogue, and the rabbi offered him a cup of tea.

The service was being livestreamed on Facebook when it was interrupted, and some audio of the negotiations between Akram and law enforcement could be heard.

In it, Akram describes the moment he entered the synagogue.

“They gave me a cup of tea,” he said, according to Yhe New York Times. “So I do feel bad.”

Cytron-Walker said the tea presented “an opportunity for me to talk with him.”

“I didn’t hear anything suspicious,” he said.

But during prayer, as he turned his back on Akram to face towards Jerusalem, “I heard a click… It was his gun.”

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