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The rabbi of a Texas synagogue where a gunman took hostages during live-streamed services said Monday that he threw a chair at his captor before escaping with two others after an hours-long standoff, crediting past security training for getting himself and his congregants out safely. 

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings” that he let the gunman inside the suburban Fort Worth synagogue Saturday because he appeared to need shelter. He said the man was not threatening or suspicious at first. Later, he heard a gun click as he was praying. 

Another man held hostage, Jeffrey R. Cohen, described the ordeal on Facebook on Monday. 

“First of all, we escaped. We weren’t released or freed,” said Cohen, who was one of four people in the synagogue for services that many other Congregation Beth Israel members were watching online. 

Cohen said the men worked to keep the gunman engaged. They talked to the gunman, he lectured them. At one point as the situation devolved, Cohen said the gunman told them to get on their knees. Cohen recalled rearing up in his chair and slowly moving his head and mouthing “no.” As the gunman moved to sit back down, Cohen said Cytron-Walker yelled to run. 

“The exit wasn’t too far away,” Cytron-Walker said. “I told them to go. 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.” 

Authorities identified the hostage-taker as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, who was killed Saturday night after the last three hostages ran out of the synagogue in Colleyville around 9 p.m. The first hostage was released shortly after 5 p.m. 

The FBI on Sunday night issued a statement calling the ordeal “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted” and said the Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating. The agency noted that Akram spoke repeatedly during negotiations about a prisoner who is serving an 86-year sentence in the U.S. The statement followed comments Saturday from the agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office that the hostage-taker was focused on an issue “not specifically related to the Jewish community.” 

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-Qaida who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. 

“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. It didn’t look good. It didn’t sound good. We were terrified,” Cytron-Walker told “CBS Mornings.”

Video of the standoff’s end 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. 

Authorities have declined to say who shot Akram, saying it was still under investigation. 

The investigation stretched to England, where late Sunday police in Manchester announced that two teenagers were in custody in connection with the standoff. Greater Manchester Police tweeted that counterterrorism officers had made the arrests but did not say whether the pair faced any charges. 

President Joe Biden called the episode an act of terror. 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 U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York about two weeks ago, a law enforcement official said. 

Akram traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa from Great Britain, according to a U.S. 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 counterterrorism police were liaising with U.S. authorities about the incident. 

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that she had spoken to her U.S. counterpart, Alejandro Mayorkas, and offered “the full support” of the police and security services in Britain in the investigation. 

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. 

It wasn’t clear why Akram chose the synagogue, though the prison where Siddiqui is serving her sentence is in Fort Worth. 

An attorney in Texas who represents Siddiqui said Monday that Siddiqui had no connection to Akram. 

“She said from the beginning when she was sentenced that she does not want any violence done in her name and she doesn’t condone any type of violence being done,” said attorney Marwa Elbially. 

Akram, who was called Faisal by his family, was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he’d been “suffering from mental health issues.” 

“We would also like to add that any attack on any human being, be it a Jew, Christian or Muslim, etc. is wrong and should always be condemned,” his brother, Gulbar Akram, wrote. 

Community organizer Asif Mahmud, who has known the family for 30 years and attends the same mosque, said the family was devastated by what happened in Texas. 

He “had mental health issues for a number of years,” Mahmud said. “The family obviously were aware of that … but nobody envisaged he would potentially go and do something like this.” 

Mohammed Khan, leader of the local government council in Blackburn, said the community promotes peace across all faiths. 

“Ours is a town where people from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths are welcomed, and it is a place where people get along and support one another,” Khan said in a statement. 

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A major winter storm blanketed a swath of North America in snow Monday as it sliced up the U.S. East Coast into Canada, disrupting travel and cutting power to thousands of homes. 

About 120,000 American customers were without power at 4:45 pm EST (2145 GMT), according to the website PowerOutage.us, with the largest concentration in the mid-Atlantic state of West Virginia and the southeastern states of North and South Carolina and Georgia. 

More than 1,600 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled by mid-afternoon Monday, in addition to the 3,000 the day before, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. 

Large parts of the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario remained under winter storm or blizzard warnings, according to a Canadian government website. 

In Toronto, up to 60 centimeters of snow was expected — “a historic storm for the city,” tweeted Anthony Farnell, chief meteorologist of Canadian TV channel Global News. 

Many schools were closed, and school buses were not operating in Quebec and in the south of Ontario, including the Toronto area. Students had been due to return to classrooms on Monday in both provinces after the holiday break.

Monday was a national holiday in the United States, so most schools and many businesses were already closed, though lots of people usually take the opportunity to travel during the long weekend. 

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) said earlier it expects the storm to “slowly wind down today,” but that snow will continue to fall through the evening in upper New York and New England. 

The heaviest snowfall of 0.7 meters (2 feet, 2.5 inches) was recorded in Ashtabula, Ohio, the agency said. 

“Significant impacts due to snow, ice, wind, and coastal flooding will persist across a large area,” NWS said in a tweet. 

The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida, while in the Carolinas and up through the Appalachian Mountains region, icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.

Powerful winds downed trees and caused coastal flooding, with a 3.6-meter storm surge reported in Boston. 

Transport was seriously disrupted; drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from the southern U.S. state of Arkansas all the way up to Quebec in Canada. 

A portion of busy interstate highway I-95 was closed in North Carolina. 

In Toronto, police tweeted that they had closed two sections of highway due to extreme weather, and asked drivers to stay home, “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“We’re seeing a number of cars having to stop and de-ice their windshield,” said the Quebec Transportation Ministry in a tweet Monday morning. “Heavy precipitation and gusts allow ice to form, despite windshield wipers — all the more reason to stay home!” 

U.S. officials also discouraged driving, and many states prepositioned teams to deal with the emergency, especially in the South where snow is much less common. 

The northeastern United States already experienced snow chaos earlier this month. When a storm blanketed the northeast, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on the I-95, a major highway linking to Washington, D.C. 

 

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Novak Djokovic risks being frozen out of tennis as he chases a record 21st Grand Slam title, with rules on travelers who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 tightening in the third year of the pandemic and some tournaments reconsidering exemptions. 

The Serbian, who has not been vaccinated, was deported from Australia on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned. 

Under Australian law, Djokovic cannot get another visa for three years – denying him the chance to add to his nine titles at Melbourne Park – but the government has left the door open for a possible return next year. 

The world number one, however, faces more immediate hurdles in his bid to overtake Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafael Nadal, with whom he is tied on 20 major titles, as he could be barred from the French Open as things stand. 

The French Sports Ministry said on Monday there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday, which requires people to have vaccination certificates to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas. 

“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice,” the ministry said. 

“As far as Roland-Garros is concerned, it’s in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope it’ll be more favorable. So we’ll see but clearly there’s no exemption.” 

The ministry’s stance was welcomed by Germany’s world number three Alexander Zverev. 

“At least it’s clear what’s going to happen,” he told reporters after winning his opening match at Melbourne Park on Monday. “At least they’re saying, ‘OK, no unvaccinated players are allowed to play in the French Open.’ 

“We know that now in advance, and I can imagine there’s not going to be any exemptions, and that’s OK.” 

Next up 

The next tournament on Djokovic’s calendar is likely to be the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, February 21-26. 

A spokesperson for the event told Reuters that all players would need to provide negative PCR tests before being allowed into the United Arab Emirates. 

“(Players) will then need to adhere to the testing protocols and processes stipulated by the ATP and the WTA,” the spokesperson added. 

Organizers of the Monte Carlo Masters, which Djokovic has won twice, are awaiting French government guidelines for the next edition in April, while Wimbledon organizers AELTC are also yet to finalize safety arrangements for the major. 

However, England’s Lawn Tennis Association said entry requirements for its events, some of which serve as Wimbledon warm-ups, would be determined by the government. 

Currently, unvaccinated people can enter England but must isolate for 10 days. 

Entering US

A U.S. Open representative said last week that the year’s final major would follow New York City Department of Health guidelines. 

Djokovic could have trouble getting into the United States, because foreign air travelers have had to be fully vaccinated since November and provide proof before boarding flights, with limited exceptions. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there are no exceptions for vaccine requirements “for religious reasons or other moral convictions.” 

That rule could also affect Djokovic’s participation in U.S. hardcourt tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami in March. 

The Serbian, who is among three ATP players in the top 100 yet to be vaccinated, could also face issues ahead of the Italian Open in Rome in May due to tough COVID restrictions in Italy. 

Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida told La Sexta TV station on Monday that it would “be great” to have Djokovic play in the April 26-May 8 Madrid Open, which he has won three times, though the government would be the arbiter. 

Spain requires visitors to prove they have been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or have immunity based on recovery. 

 

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The family of a delivery driver who died last month when a tornado collapsed the central Illinois Amazon facility where he worked filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Madison County.

The action on behalf of Austin McEwen, 26, claims that Amazon failed to warn employees of dangerous weather or provide safe shelter before a tornado slammed the Edwardsville facility on December 10, killing McEwen and five others.

It is believed to be the first legal action taken in response to the deaths. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation.

McEwen’s parents, Randy and Alice McEwen, allege that Amazon administrators knew severe weather was imminent but had no emergency plan nor evacuated employees from the fulfillment center.

“Sadly, it appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five,” Alice McEwen said at a news conference on Monday.

Amazon “carelessly required individuals … to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck,” the lawsuit says, and “improperly directed” McEwen and colleagues to shelter in a rest room, which it says the company knew or should have known wasn’t safe.

“They had people working up to the point of no return,” the McEwens’ lawyer, Jack Casciato, said. 

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel released a statement that countered that the lawsuit “misunderstands key facts,” including the differences among severe weather alerts and the condition and safety of the building.

“This was a new building less than four years old, built-in compliance with all applicable building codes, and the local teams were following the weather conditions closely,” Nantel said. “Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country, and while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down. We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued.” 

The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 from each of the four defendants named in the suit, which includes Amazon.com, the construction company that built the facility and the project’s developer. 

Nantel said the company would defend itself against the lawsuit but would continue to focus on “supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes.” 

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Funeral services were held Monday for nine children and three adults who died in a Philadelphia fire five days into the new year, the deadliest blaze in the city in more than a century. 

A funeral procession on the rain-soaked streets of the city Monday morning was followed by services at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, to which members of the community were invited and asked to wear white. 

Those in attendance at the three-hour service listened to Bible readings, official proclamations and music. Relatives spoke about their loss and their memories of their loved ones from two microphones behind tables bearing caskets amid white flowers and large pictures of the victims. 

“None of us know what to do with a funeral with 12 people,” said the Reverend Dr. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. “We’re in a space of grief and pain we wish on no one else.”

One speaker, an aunt of the children, tearfully said she believed there was “a family reunion in heaven.”

“I believe they’re with their dad. I believe they’re with my mother. I believe they’re with my father, their uncles and aunts,” she said. “The hurt is deep, but it will subside.” 

The victims of the January 5 fire were all on the third floor of a duplex north of the city center near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The three-story brick duplex was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which is the city’s public housing agency and the state’s biggest landlord. 

Three sisters — Rosalee McDonald, Virginia Thomas and Quinsha White — and nine of their children died in the blaze, according to family members. The city last week identified the other victims as Quintien Tate-McDonald, Destiny McDonald, Dekwan Robinson, J’Kwon Robinson, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson, Shaniece Wayne, Natasha Wayne and Janiyah Roberts. Officials did not provide their ages.

Investigators last week confirmed the fire started at a Christmas tree but stopped short of officially saying that it was sparked by a child playing with a lighter. 

The blaze had been the deadliest fire in years at a U.S. residential building but was surpassed days later by a fire in a high-rise in New York City’s Bronx borough that killed 17 people, including several children. 

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Britain’s rebellious Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seldom come across a rule he hasn’t wanted to break — and in many ways his political ascendancy has been because of his flouting of ordinances with voters thrilling to his audacity and readiness to defy conventions and norms.

His rule-breaking, though, is turning into a liability rather than an electoral asset — even among populist-minded voters who liked the idea of a break with the past and wanted him to shake up British politics.

Britain’s Conservative lawmakers returned to London Monday from their constituencies with rebukes still stinging their ears from voters furious with seemingly endless revelations about numerous impromptu and bibulous Downing Street parties held last year as the coronavirus pandemic death toll mounted. The parties were in breach of a strict nationwide lockdown, when social gatherings were banned and thousands were prohibited from visiting family members dying in hospital wards from COVID-19.

The newspaper front pages have been withering in their criticism about what they have dubbed as “Partygate” and so has been the public reaction as more revelations emerge of a culture of partying at Downing Street with aides resupplying with wine and beer purchased from a supermarket near the House of Commons and transported back in a suitcase. Calls for Johnson to resign have mounted — including from some Conservative lawmakers. Cabinet rivals have been jockeying behind the scenes to position themselves to replace him.

Last week, Johnson offered a half-apology in parliament for the breaches of lockdown rules, but said he thought a “bring your own booze” garden party he attended was a genuine work meeting. Later in the parliamentary tea rooms, he suggested to Conservative lawmakers the scandal was a storm in a teacup.

Government aides had hoped the storm would blow over and tasked a senior civil servant to investigate.

On Friday, the scandal worsened when it emerged one party took place at Downing Street the night before the funeral of Prince Philip. Tabloid newspapers — and opposition lawmakers — were quick to note the contrast with the behavior of the rule-observant monarch, Queen Elizabeth.

She mourned the passing of her husband of more than 70 years at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, sitting alone in the pews, distanced from her grieving relatives.

The government apologized to the queen.

A survey conducted by the Grassroots Conservatives group reported Sunday that 40 % of its supporters want Johnson to resign.

Conservative MPs said they confronted enormous anger from their local associations when visiting their districts Saturday and Sunday. Lawmaker Robert Syms told reporters, “I’ve had emails from what I would call Christian, decent, honest, honorable types of Tory voters, who say they feel embarrassed about voting Conservative with Boris Johnson.”

Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party chairman, toured TV studios Sunday, saying Johnson is “both very contrite and deeply apologetic for what happened” and plans to overhaul the “culture” at No. 10. “He is determined to make sure that this can’t be allowed to happen and that we address the underlying culture in Downing Street,” he said.

In his attempt to salvage his premiership, Johnson is reportedly planning to dismiss much of his inner circle of aides and advisers, in what The Times of London newspaper described Monday as a bid to “save his own skin.” He is also planning to announce a series of populist measures, including ending pandemic curbs.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education minister, claimed the prime minister is safe in his job; however, around 20 to 35 Conservative lawmakers are said to have submitted formal letters to party authorities requesting a leadership vote. Fifty-four letters would trigger such a vote. Dowden said it would be wrong for Johnson to step down as prime minister, and that a leadership contest was not what the public wanted.

With Johnson’s poll numbers plummeting, the country’s top pollster, John Curtice, a professor at the University of Strathclyde, said Monday he doubts the prime minister can recover from “Partygate.” Conservative lawmakers “have to ask themselves whether or not the prime minister is likely to recover from a situation where around a half of the people who voted for him thinks he should go,” he said.

 

While it might seem odd that a series of parties would topple a British prime minister, pollsters say, the scandal might be the breaking point for voters. They say voters have become enraged by the toxic mix of government chaos, abrupt policy reversals and corruption allegations. The cavalier partying has cut through to them, they say.

Johnson’s showmanship, once widely seen as an attribute, has also been misfiring as the public mood sours. In November, a rambling speech at a conference of the country’s top business leaders led to widespread criticism. In the speech, Johnson lost his notes, had to apologize for losing his way and extensively praised an amusement park, known as Peppa Pig World, while comparing himself to Moses and imitating the noise of an accelerating sports car.

Just before Christmas, David Frost, Johnson’s Brexit minister and close ally, quit the Cabinet, citing pandemic restrictions and the government’s “direction of travel.” Frost, who had been handling Britain’s post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union, voiced dissatisfaction, saying he was worried Britain wasn’t taking advantage of its exit from the EU to chart a new course of limited government, lower taxes and reduced regulation.

Johnson recently suffered one of the most significant parliamentary rebellions in modern British history, when more than 100 of his Conservative lawmakers voted against the reimposition of tough pandemic restrictions. The embattled prime minister was further rocked by a humiliating parliamentary by-election defeat in a seat in the English Midlands that had been held continuously by the Conservatives since 1832. 

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A French court found far-right French presidential candidate and political commentator Éric Zemmour guilty Monday of inciting racial hatred and ordered him to pay more than $11,000 in fines.

Zemmour told a group of foreign correspondents that he stood by his controversial words, insisting he could not have been inciting racial hatred “insofar as unaccompanied minor migrants are not from a separate race.”

Monday’s case focused on comments that Zemmour made in September 2020 during an interview on French television network CNews about children who migrated to France without parents or guardians.

“They don’t belong here,” Zemmour had said about the children. “They are thieves. They are murderers. They are rapists. That’s all they are. They should be sent back. They shouldn’t even come.”

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Zemmour stood by his comments and said he would appeal, adding that the court was condemning him for expressing his views. 

The former TV pundit, who is running in April’s presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration views.

For several weeks last year, opinion polls showed that Zemmour, who has earlier convictions for inciting racial hatred, was coming close to placing second in the presidential poll and facing French President Emmanuel Macron in a runoff. He now ranks fourth in many polls.

 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Descendants of slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and their supporters marched on Washington Monday to urge Senate Democrats to overcome Republican opposition and obstruction within their own ranks to push through a national overhaul of voting rights.

They rallied on the national holiday honoring King on the 93rd anniversary of his birth. The march occurred just days after two centrist Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, said they would oppose attempts to change legislative rules in the politically divided 100-member chamber to allow Democrats to set uniform national election rules over the objections of all 50 Republican senators.  

King’s son, Martin Luther King, III, his wife Arndrea Waters King, and their teenage daughter, Yolanda Renee King, joined several hundred activists as they walked in chilly weather across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, symbolizing recent congressional support for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure.

“You were successful with infrastructure, which was a great thing,” King told the crowd. “But we need you to use that same energy to ensure that all Americans have the unencumbered right to vote.”

Watch related video by Laurel Bowman:

U.S. President Joe Biden said in a video address that Americans must commit to the unfinished work of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering jobs, justice and protecting “the sacred right to vote, a right from which all other rights flow.”

“It’s time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand,” Biden said. “It’s time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for a vote as early as Tuesday on the legislation that would expand access to mail-in voting and early voting before the official election days in early November, strengthen federal oversight of elections in states with a history of racial discrimination and tighten campaign finance rules.

Democratic supporters say the legislation is needed to counter new restrictions on voting passed in 19 Republican-led states that some critics say would make it harder for minority and low-income voters to cast ballots. Republicans say the legislation is a partisan power grab by Democrats and would be a federal takeover of elections that the 50 states have typically managed with state-by-state rules.

But the legislation is almost certainly to be killed unless Sinema and Manchin suddenly reverse their opposition to ending use of the Senate filibuster rule that allows opponents of contentious legislation, either Republicans or Democrats, to demand that a 60-vote supermajority be amassed for passage.   

Marches supporting voting rights and other civil rights measures were planned in several U.S. cities on the King holiday.

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