A rabbi who endured a tense, 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogueÂ said Monday that he and the other hostages fled after he threw a chair at the assailant.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker spoke to “CBS Mornings” hours after the FBI released a statement calling the standoff a “terrorism-related matter in which the Jewish community was targeted.”
Cytron-Walker said that in the last hour of Saturday’s standoff, it appeared the assailant, British national Malik Faisal Akram, “wasn’t getting what he wanted.”
“It didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good,” Cytron-Walker said. “We were terrified.”
He said he saw an opportunityÂ and made sure the other two hostages were ready. The exit was not far away, he said.
“I told them to go,” he said. “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.”
Akram, 44, was killed after an FBI SWAT team swept into theÂ Congregation Beth IsraelÂ in Colleyville.Â Authorities provided no details on who shot Akram, saying that is part of the investigation.Â
The trans-Atlantic probe intensified with the arrest of two teenagers in Britain late Sunday, althoughÂ details of their alleged involvement were not immediately released.Â The FBI saidÂ the Joint Terrorism Task Force was handling the case â€“ and preventing terrorism is the agency’s “No. 1Â priority.”
“We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racialÂ and ethnic groups,” the statement said. “We have had a close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community for many years.”
The FBI’s statement differed from remarks immediately after the standoff when the bureau’s Dallas chief said theÂ assailant’s demands were “specifically focused on issues not connected to the Jewish community.”Â Investigators said AkramÂ expressed support for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist serving 86 years in a Texas prison for attempting to murder U.S.Â militaryÂ personnel in Afghanistan more than a decade ago.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday it was “disturbing” to hear the FBI downplay the link to antisemitism.
“I hope the FBI will reconsider the statement because it is well known that at her trial Siddiqui, also known as ‘Lady al-Qaeda,’ was a raging anti-Semite who demanded that jurors be genetically tested for Jewish blood,” Graham tweeted. “This statement by the FBI seems ill-conceived and ill-timed.”
The Anti-Defamation League applauded the FBI’s efforts but asked that the connection to antisemitism be fully investigated.
“There is no doubt, given what we know so far, that the hostage-taker chose his target carefully,” the league said in a statement. “We urge law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate the role antisemitism may have played in motivating the suspect.”
STANDOFF ENDS:Â Texas synagogue hostages safe after hourslong standoff
In its latest statement, the FBI referred to itsÂ protracted negotiations with Akram who “spoke repeatedly” about Siddiqui. SheÂ wasÂ detained in 2008 by Afghan authorities who found notes referring to a “mass casualty attack” possibly targeting New York. When U.S. officials attempted to interview Siddiqui in Ghazni, Afghanistan, she seized an Army officer’s weapon and shot at an officer and other members of the interview team.Â
She was brought to New York for trial. Siddiqui told the judge she wanted the jurors to undergo genetic testing.
â€œIf they have a Zionist or Israeli background â€¦ they are all mad at me,â€ Siddiqui told the judge. â€œThey should be excluded if you want to be fair.”Â
Siddiqui is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison in Fort Worth, less than 25 miles from the synagogue.
None of the four hostages in Saturday’s attack was injured.Â Akram’s brother, Gulbar, released a statement to Sky News sayingÂ family members spent hours talking to his brother during the siege. Although the assailantÂ was “suffering from mental health issues we were confident that he would not harm the hostages,” Gulbar Akram said.
Cytron-Walker expressedÂ gratitude Sunday to law enforcement for their efforts at ending the standoff.
“I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support, all of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us, all of the security training that helped save us,” heÂ wrote in a FacebookÂ post.Â “I am grateful that we made it out.Â I am grateful to be alive.”