Texas hostage taker had criminal and mental health history in UK

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Texas hostage taker had criminal and mental health history in UK
© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Ralph Lauer/EPA

A British man who flew to the US, acquired a gun and took hostages at a Texas synagogue had a criminal record and an extensive history of mental health issues, the Guardian understands.

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Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old from Blackburn, was killed after a tense 11-hour hostage standoff at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville on Saturday evening. All four hostages survived the siege and were unharmed.

President Joe Biden on Sunday declared the incident an act of terror and the British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said the UK government condemned “this act of terrorism and antisemitism”.

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In a statement to Sky news Akram’s brother Gulbar asked how he had been able to acquire a visa to enter the US. “He’s known to police. Got a criminal record. How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?” he said.

Asked by reporters on Sunday how Akram could have procured weapons in the US, Biden said: “the assertion was he got the weapons on the street. He purchased them when he landed.”

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The Guardian understands that Akram had a criminal record in the UK but no known terrorism convictions. Investigators in the UK believe that Akram had no connection to Texas and travelled there earlier this month. Officers at MI5, the British Security Service, were on Monday examining their records to see if he had ever been known to them.

Akram had been the subject of an exclusion order in 2001 banning him from Blackburn magistrates court after he made remarks about the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the US, saying he wished he had been on the planes flown into buildings to commit mass murder.

During the synagogue siege, Akram could be heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, who was convicted in 2010 of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas serving an 86-year sentence.

As the siege unfolded the FBI asked British police to get Akram’s family to try to talk him into surrendering. They spoke to Akram as he held hostages, but could not convince him to give himself up.

British detectives continued to question two teenagers arrested in Manchester who are both believed to be male. They are being questioned to see if they knew anything about Akram’s intentions to travel to the US to stage the attack.

A community source in Blackburn said Akram was known to behave unusually, including in and around mosques in the Lancashire town.

Malik Faisal Akram was known as Faisal to those who knew him in Blackburn, Lancashire. A neighbour of the former family home described him as “a bit hotheaded”, but otherwise a generally unremarkable man who at one point had been trying to build a property business. “I never thought at all in my wildest dreams that this was ever going to happen”.

A taxi driver, who had known Akram since childhood, said he had recently lost his business and house. “He went through some bad issues, he must have lost a lot. But his mental health issues were genuine, we’ve known him for all of our life.”

MP Kate Hollern said the Akram’s actions were “not a reflection of Blackburn or any religious community”. The head of the local council, Mohammed Khan, said Blackburn and Darwen would be assisting with the investigation. “In Blackburn we firmly stand by the belief that no community should live in fear for its safety as they go about practising their religious beliefs or identity. We stand in solidarity in condemning this act of hate, violence and terror.”

Lancashire Council of Mosques also condemned the hostage situation in Texas and urged its members to avoid speculation and sharing unverified information.

The standoff began during a Saturday morning service at the Reform synagogue in the affluent city of about 26,000 residents. The service was being live streamed on Facebook when a man with a British accent could be heard shouting off camera. The feed was eventually cut hours later and police were called at about 10.41am.

One male hostage, believed to be the synagogue’s rabbi, was released at around 5pm as negotiations continued throughout the day. Armed FBI officers stormed the building and rescued the three remaining hostages at around 9pm, authorities said. Details of the manner of Akram’s death have not been released.

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