FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Thursday that the hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue on Shabbat was “an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community.”
“This was not some random occurrence,” Wray said during a webinar hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, as quoted by The New York Times. “It was intentional, it was symbolic and we’re not going to tolerate antisemitism in this country.”
His comments came after the FBI initially said that the attacker, a British citizen named Malik Faisal Akram, was not driven by antisemitism when he held four people at the synagogue hostage for 11 hours.
At a news conference on Saturday night after all four hostages escaped, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office, Matthew DeSarno, said Akram was motivated by an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
The FBI’s initial assessment drew a sharp backlash from some Jewish leaders and their supporters. It later attempted to walk back its initial claim, issuing a statement referring to the event as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.”
In Thursday’s webinar, Wray stressed the FBI’s commitment to combating antisemitic attacks.
“We recognize that the Jewish community in particular has suffered violence and faces very real threats from really across the hate spectrum,” he said, mentioning those radicalized by jihadist movements, “domestic violent extremists” and others.
Jeffrey Cohen, one of the hostages, told MSNBC this week that Akram was not "your typical attacker" who wanted to kill Jewish people but that he had "bought into these tropes."
"He came to the Jews because he bought into these very dangerous stories that the Jews control the world and the Jews control the government and the banks and the media. And we as good people and we as patriotic Americans, we need to challenge those things when we hear them, because these words do have consequences," Cohen recalled.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the UK-based Jewish Chroniclepublished a recording of a phone call between the gunman and his brother in Britain which took place before Akram was shot dead by SWAT teams.
In the recording, Akram told his brother, "I'm opening the doors for every youngster in England to enter America and f*** with them”.
The gunman also boasted about his desire for martyrdom and said, "I've asked Allah for this death, Allah is with me, I'm not worried in the slightest."