Texas synagogue gunman was known to British intelligence: Report

MI5 investigated Malik Faisal Akram in 2020 but he was no longer considered a risk at the time of the attack, BBC says.

Police stand in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Texas
Akram, a 44-year-old British national, was shot dead on Saturday after an hours-long standoff with police at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, near Fort Worth [Brandon Wade/AP]

The suspected gunman who took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue was known to the United Kingdom’s domestic intelligence service, the BBC has reported.

Frank Gardner, the British broadcaster’s security correspondent, said on Tuesday that MI5 was aware of Malik Faisal Akram, who they reportedly investigated in 2020 as a “subject of interest”.

At the time Akram flew to the United States, he was no longer considered a risk, Gardner said in a tweet.

Akram, a 44-year-old British national from Blackburn, a northern English town, was shot dead on Saturday after an hours-long standoff with police at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, near Fort Worth.

Authorities have declined to say who shot him, saying the case was still under investigation. They have not said how or when Akram entered the US, but reports citing unnamed police sources suggest he arrived in the country via New York’s JFK International Airport about two weeks ago.

The four people he is alleged to have held hostage were eventually freed, unharmed, after the ordeal that started after 11am (17:00 GMT) local time and concluded at about 9pm (03:00 GMT).

The FBI has launched an investigation.

US President Joe Biden, who labelled the attack an “act of terror”, said Akram was believed to have bought the weapons used in the incident “on the street” after arriving from the UK.

British police said “counterterrorism” officers had arrested two teenagers on Sunday in connection with the case, though no charges against the pair have been announced yet.

‘There was nothing we could have done’

On Sunday, Akram’s brother Gulbar said his sibling was mentally unwell.

During the standoff, Akram’s relatives were at Blackburn police station liaising with Faisal, the negotiators, and the FBI.

“There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender,” Gulbar wrote on the Blackburn Muslim Community’s Facebook page.

Video of Saturday’s incident, by local TV station WFAA, showed people running out a door of the synagogue. A man holding a gun was seen opening the same door. Seconds later, he turned around and closed it.

Then several shots and and an explosion were heard.

During negotiations, Akram spoke repeatedly about a Pakistani neuroscientist who is serving an 86-year prison sentence at a facility in Fort Worth, authorities said.

Akram could be heard ranting on a Facebook livestream during the incident, demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.

Her punishment has fuelled outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and supporters, who view her as victimised by the American criminal justice system.

Siddiqui’s lawyer said on Saturday that she had no involvement in the hostage situation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies