Rabbi says hostage-taker grew ‘belligerent’ late in Texas synagogue standoff

Police vehicles block a road leading to the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, at the heigh of Saturday's standoff with a hostage-taker. (AFP)
1 / 2
Police vehicles block a road leading to the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, at the heigh of Saturday's standoff with a hostage-taker. (AFP)
Rabbi says hostage-taker grew ‘belligerent’ late in Texas synagogue standoff
2 / 2
Short Url
Updated 17 January 2022

Rabbi says hostage-taker grew ‘belligerent’ late in Texas synagogue standoff

Rabbi says hostage-taker grew ‘belligerent’ late in Texas synagogue standoff
  • Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage taking in a private sale
  • Akram, a British citizen, was in lawful immigration status on a visa, according to a US official

COLLEYVILLE, US: A rabbi who was among four people held hostage at a Texas synagogue said Sunday that their armed captor grew “increasingly belligerent and threatening” toward the end of the 10-hour standoff, which ended with an FBI SWAT team rushing into the building and the captor’s death.
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 around 9 p.m. The FBI said there was no indication that anyone else was involved, but it had not provided a possible motive as of Sunday afternoon.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker credited security training that his suburban Fort Worth congregation has received over the years for getting him and the other three hostages through the ordeal, which he described as traumatic.
“In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” Cytron-Walker said in a statement. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”
President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream of the services and demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to Al-Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters in Philadelphia on Sunday, Biden said Akram allegedly purchased a weapon on the streets.
Federal investigators believe Akram purchased the handgun used in the hostage taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Akram arrived in the US at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said.




FBI Special Agent Matthew DeSarno speaks at a news conference near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP)

Video from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several shots and then an explosion could be heard.
“Rest assured, we are focused,” Biden said. “The attorney general is focused and making sure that we deal with these kinds of acts.”
Akram was in lawful immigration status on a visa, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended to be public. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with US authorities about the incident.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community. It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Saddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth.
Michael Finfer, the president of the congregation, said in a statement “there was a one in a million chance that the gunman picked our congregation.”
Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation.
Authorities said police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon afterward.
Saturday’s services were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut out. A spokesperson for Meta Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.




Law enforcement process the scene in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on Jan. 16, 2022. (AP)

Akram used his phone during the course of negotiations to communicate with people other than law enforcement, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream. But John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations — the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group — said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.
“We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who also is legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.
Texas resident Victoria Francis, who said she watched about an hour of the livestream, said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb. Biden said there were apparently no explosives, despite the threats.
“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that,” Francis said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. By Sunday morning, the police perimeter around the synagogue had shrunk to half a block in either direction and FBI agents could be seen going in and out of the building. A sign saying “Love” — with the “o” replaced with a Star of David — was planted in a neighbor’s lawn.




A sign is displayed outside of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on Jan. 16, 2022. (AFP)

Reached outside his home Sunday, Cytron-Walker declined to speak at length about the episode. “It’s a little overwhelming as your can imagine. It was not fun yesterday,” he told the AP.
Andrew Marc Paley, a Dallas rabbi who was called to the scene to help families and hostages upon their release, said Cytron-Walker acted as a calm and comforting presence. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. That was around the time food was delivered to those inside the synagogue, but Paley said he did not know if it was part of the negotiations.
“He appeared a little unfazed, actually, but I don’t know if that was sort of shock or just the moment,” Paley said of the first hostage who was released.
Cytron-Walker said his congregation had received training from local authorities and the Secure Community Network, which was founded in 2004 by a coalition of Jewish organizations and describes itself as “the official safety and security organization” of the Jewish community in North America. Michael Masters, the CEO of the organization, said the congregation had provided security training in August and had not been previously aware of Akram.
The standoff led authorities to tighten security in other places, including New York City, where police said that they increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that “this event is a stark reminder that antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide.”


UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half
Updated 02 July 2022

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.


African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
Updated 02 July 2022

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
  • The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported

HARARE: Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

FASTFACT

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the expanding monkeypox outbreak was worrying, but did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued spreading across more borders, showed signs of increased severity, or began infecting vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it hasn’t previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
The vaccines have mainly been developed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not authorized for use against monkeypox in Africa.
Vaccines have not previously been used to try to stamp out monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied mostly on measures like contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a press briefing Thursday.
WHO noted that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
WHO said last month it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear could see vaccines go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and who already have their own supplies.
While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been mostly identified in men who are gay, bisexual or sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the numbers of monkeypox cases were almost evenly split between men and women.
“We have not yet seen spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men.
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of catching monkeypox if they come into close, physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedsheets.
In Africa, monkeypox has mainly been spread to people from infected wild animals like rodents or primates.
It has not typically triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.


Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
Updated 02 July 2022

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
  • Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat, began his foreign service career in 1979
  • Prior to his new appointment, he served as the Philippine ambassador to the UN in New York 

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Manila’s UN Ambassador Enrique Manalo as the country’s new foreign affairs secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.  

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn into office on Thursday.

He has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy. 

Manalo is a career diplomat who has been serving as the Philippine permanent representative to the UN in New York and had twice served as the department’s undersecretary.  

BACKGROUND

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy.

“President Marcos appointed Secretary Manalo in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Marcos preferred a career diplomat to helm the department, the DFA said, so that the Philippines could “effectively advance its interests [on] the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.” 

Manalo took his oath on Friday at the presidential palace in Manila but will need a few days “to wind up affairs in his previous post,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a text message to reporters. 

His appointment is seen as reflecting Marcos’ choice to have an official who “truly understands the external challenges and opportunities” faced by the Philippines, Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News.

“A senior career foreign service officer brings that to the office,” he said.

“I hope Secretary Manalo focuses on broadening our engagements and partnerships with countries that believe in a multipolar world and a rules-based international order.”

Manalo, whose career in foreign service began in 1979, had also served as acting secretary of the DFA for two months in 2017 as well as Philippine ambassador to the UK and Belgium.

His appointment and that of other officials in Marcos’ cabinet would have to be approved by the appointments commission of the Philippine House of Representatives. 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 01 July 2022

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.


In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 01 July 2022

In rare animal rights push, Pakistan to work with PETA on ‘critical’ reforms

Pakistani veterinarians give treatment to a dog at the Animal Care Center in Karachi on Aug. 16, 2016. (AFP)
  • Government on Thursday banned testing, surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools in Islamabad
  • Country says it will amend British-era regulations with ‘Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law’

ISLAMABAD: Shalin Gala, vice president at global animal rights advocacy group PETA, on Friday hailed “landmark” reforms in Pakistan that banned tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education, and said the organization would be working with the government on more critical reforms in training that would spare the lives of animals.

In a rare move to ensure animal rights in Pakistan, the government on Thursday banned testing and surgeries on live animals at veterinary schools and industrial complexes in the federal capital, Islamabad, and announced a 15,000 rupee ($74) fine and jail term for animal cruelty offenders.

The decision came after widespread outrage in Pakistan over videos that went viral in May showing animals in various states of distress after allegedly being operated upon by veterinary students. Activists and members of the public have widely condemned the practices and called for action.

At veterinary schools around the world, the practice of using live animals to teach surgery has been on the decline in the last decade, but an Arab News investigation published on June 10 quoted students and university management saying live animals were being used to teach surgical skills, though they added proper procedures were followed.

“Pakistan’s landmark reforms will ban tests and surgeries on live animals for veterinary education and shift to sophisticated humane methods,” Gala told Arab News.

He said PETA was “delighted” to have shared recommendations for improving veterinary training with Salman Sufi, head of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Strategic Reforms Unit.

“We look forward to our upcoming meeting with him to discuss further critical reforms in biomedical research and training that will spare animals’ lives and benefit patients, alike,” Gala added.

As Sufi introduced the ban on live testing of animals in Islamabad, he announced the government would introduce “Pakistan’s first comprehensive animal welfare law,” amending British colonial era regulations.

“Amendments for national level law are ready ... The bill will be tabled in the National Assembly during the next session (for debate and approval),” he said.

Citizens will be able to report any acts of animal cruelty through a hotline. A standard set of guidelines will also be announced to regulate pet markets across the country, Sufi said, adding that violators would be fined and their shops closed.

Related