Jewish community striving to 'stay strong' after Texas synagogue terror

COLLEYVILLE, Tx. (WTVD) -- President Joe Biden and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation are now calling Saturday morning's events at Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. an "act of terror" in which the Jewish community was directly targeted.

Around the nation, members of the Jewish community are still reeling and trying to make sense of the weekend's events.

Raleigh, North Carolina, Rabbi Zalmy Dubinsky, who is the co-director of Chabad Young Professionals of Raleigh, said the incident was obviously frightening and horrible, but unfortunately not a first.

"We're doubling down - doubling down on our safety measures of course, but also doubling down in our conviction and commitment to stay vibrant and to stay strong," he said.

The hostage-taker was a 44-year-old British national named Malik Faisal Akram. He was pronounced dead at the end of the nearly 11-hour-long standoff.
Members of the congregation said Akram interrupted a Saturday morning Shabbat service and could be heard on the Facebook live stream.

"He was talking about Israel, Palestine, Islam, and that he had a gun," said Stacey Silverman, a member of the Beth Israel congregation. "He implied he had a bomb in his backpack. It was horrifying."

Akram took three members of the congregation and Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker hostage for many hours. They were all eventually able to escape unharmed.

Akram was later found dead in the synagogue. According to the initial investigation, he was shot by the hostage-rescue team.

Rabbi Cytron-Walker said recent security training at the synagogue saved their lives.

"Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee," he said.

During the standoff, Akram demanded the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence at a prison in Fort Worth -- close to the synagogue's location -- for plotting to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

According to ABC News, Akram flew from London to New York City on Dec. 29, but it's not clear how he got from New York to Texas.

Counter-terrorism police in the UK have also detained two teenagers who they say are Akram's children in connection to the incident. They are in custody for questioning.

Meanwhile, members of the Jewish community are looking to one another to spread light in a dark time. While Rabbi Dubinsky's organization in Raleigh typically does not host weekly Friday night services, he is hosting a gathering this week.

"The response has been through the roof and the community is going to come together in a really strong way to sing, to pray, to eat of course, and to remind ourselves that the only way to fight darkness is to add more light," said Dubinsky.

Dubinsky added that safety measures will be increased, as they have at many Jewish synagogues, schools and community centers around the country following Saturday's events.

ABC News' Morgan Norwood and Elizabeth Schulze and ABC11's Elaina Athans contributed to this report.
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