Texas synagogue hostage taker was a British citizen, FBI says

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Texas synagogue hostage taker was a British citizen, FBI says
© Reuters/SHELBY TAUBER Hostage incident at Texas synagogue

(Reuters) -The FBI identified a hostage taker killed at a Texas synagogue as a British citizen, after U.S. President Joe Biden earlier on Sunday said the gunman had used weapons he got off the street to commit “an act of terror.”

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The FBI identified the man as Malik Faisal Akram, 44, who was killed after the safe release of his four hostages on Saturday night from the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.

His brother Gulbar posted on Facebook that the suspect, from the industrial town of Blackburn, in the north of England, suffered from mental illness and said the family had spent all night at the Blackburn police station “liaising with Faisal, the negotiators, FBI etc.”

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“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.

He said the FBI was due to fly into the UK “later today,” saying that the family as a result could say little more.

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“We would like to say that we as a family do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologize wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident,” the brother wrote.

The hostage-taking in Colleyville, Texas, “was an act of terror,“ said Biden, who was in Philadelphia with first lady Jill Biden packing carrots and apples at a food bank in a visit to the city to honor the legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“Allegedly – I don’t have all the facts, nor does the attorney general – but allegedly the assertion was he got the weapons on the street,” Biden said.

“He purchased them when he landed and it turns out there apparently were no bombs that we know of. … Apparently he spent the first night in a homeless shelter. I don’t have all the details yet so I’m reluctant to go into much more detail,” the president said.

An FBI Hostage Rescue Team on Saturday night stormed Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, about 16 miles (26 km) northeast of Fort Worth, ending a 10-hour standoff with police by the gunman, who disrupted a Sabbath service and took the rabbi and three other people hostage.

One hostage was released unharmed after six hours and the remaining three were later safely freed by the FBI team.

SWAT teams from the Colleyville Police Department responded to the synagogue after emergency calls began at about 10:41 a.m. during the Sabbath service. FBI negotiators soon opened contact with the man, who said he wanted to speak to a woman held in a federal prison.

The man was heard having a one-sided phone conversation during a Facebook livestream of the service. The man could be heard ranting and talking about religion and his sister, repeatedly saying he did not want to see anyone hurt, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The hostage-taker claimed to be the brother of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year U.S. prison sentence on her 2010 conviction for shooting at soldiers and FBI agents, and demanded that she be freed, a U.S. official told ABC News.

Siddiqui is being held at a federal prison in the Fort Worth area. A lawyer representing Siddiqui, Marwa Elbially, told CNN in a statement that the man was not Siddiqui’s brother and Siddiqui’s family condemned his “heinous” actions.

Although the Texas hostage situation appeared to be an isolated incident, synagogues in New York and elsewhere around the country ramped up security in response and officials condemned anti-semitic acts.

“What happened yesterday at Congregation Beth Israel is a reminder that we must speak up and combat antisemitism and hate wherever it exists,” U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement. “Everyone has a right to pray, work, study, and spend time with loved ones not as the other – but as us.”

In his Facebook post, Akram’s brother, who also mentioned the death of a younger sibling “barely three months ago,” said the family’s priority is to have Akram’s body returned to the UK “for his Funeral prayers although we have been warned it could take weeks.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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