Security expert says synagogue standoff in Texas is a reminder to be proactive

MIAMI, Fla. – After a rabbi credited his security training for getting himself out of a hostage situation safely on Saturday in Texas, some members of synagogues in South Florida were aware of security concerns in their communities.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told reporters he threw a chair at Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British national who was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was in prison in Texas for trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.

Law enforcement officials gather at Colleyville Elementary School near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. Authorities said a man took hostages Saturday during services at the synagogue where the suspect could be heard ranting in a livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Akram was the only one who died at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville in what President Joe Biden described as an act of terror, ABC News reported. Police in Manchester arrested two teenagers in connection with the hostage situation in Texas and authorities said there were ongoing investigations in Britain, The Associated Press reported.

“This used to be something that really was more in Europe or the Middle East and now it’s happening a lot more here,” said Zalman Myer-Smith, the executive director of the Community Security Organization that focuses on the security of the Jewish community.

Myer-Smith said he has devoted decades to improving the safety at religious centers amid numerous threats that he has seen an increase of during recent years. Sarah Emmons, the Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, agrees. In 2020, ADL recorded the third-highest number of antisemitic incidents ever recorded.

“We actually saw a 40% increase in antisemitic incidents here in the state of Florida from 2019 to 2020 and 2021 was not an easy year either,” Emmons said.

This is why Myer-Smith believes synagogues must have surveillance cameras, locked security gates, and other high-visibility security deterrents — in addition to security training. He also suggests communities proactively share security plans with local law enforcement.

“By doing that, it’s a community-based response and we don’t need to meet law enforcement while there’s an active shooter,” Myer-Smith said.

The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.