A British man who took worshippers hostage at a synagogue in Texas was known to UK authorities and had previously been labelled a “menace” after telling judicial officials he wished they had died on an Al Qaeda-hijacked plane on September 12, 2001.
Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was shot dead by FBI agents on Saturday after he took four people hostage for more than 10 hours at the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, a city 50 kilometres west of Dallas.
The hostage-taker was originally from the industrial town of Blackburn in the north-west of England, where he had been known to authorities for the past two decades for both criminal offences and for expressing extremist views.
It raises questions over how Akram was able to travel to the US and purchase weapons.
UK judicial officials were sent two official reports concerning Akram’s behaviour in 2001 following a number of incidents in which he threatened and abused court officials, leading deputy justice clerk Peter Wells to take the unprecedented step of banning him from a court building to protect staff.
Akram was described as a “menace” by Mr Wells in 2001 after he entered a court building and told judicial staff he “wished they had died” on one of the 9/11 planes the day after the atrocity.
He became only the second person ever to be banned from Blackburn Magistrates Court.
In a letter, Mr Wells told him at the time he had caused “great distress” to staff.
“Once again, you were threatening and abusive towards court staff. In a clear reference to the terrorist attack on New York the previous day, you said on more than one occasion to one of my court ushers 'you should have been on the [expletive] plane.
“This caused a great deal of distress to an individual who was simply doing his job and should not be subjected to your foul abuse.”
Akram’s family describe ‘devastation’ over incident
On Monday, Akram’s brother, Gulper Akram, said the family was “devastated” about the incident and confirmed police were aware of his behaviour.
“He's known to police. Got a criminal record,” he told Sky News.
“How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?”
He said his brother was suffering from mental health issues and he and other family members had tried to help in the hostage negotiations but had been unable to convince him to surrender.
Akram had arrived in America two weeks before and lived in homeless shelters before buying a gun on the street, said US President Joe Biden, who has described Akram’s actions as “an act of terror”.
On Monday, two people, believed to be under 18, were arrested in connection with the incident by antiterrorism officers in Manchester.
During the siege that took place during Shabbat service, Akram had requested the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui.
Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist, was sentenced by a New York court to 86 years in prison in 2010 for the attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan.
Akram’s motives are not yet known and Mr Biden has pledged to reveal more details at his press conference on Wednesday.
Hostage-taker’s birthplace previously linked to anti-Semitic and terror threats
Akram's Lancashire birthplace is nestled on the edge of the picturesque West Pennine Moors and was once at the heart of the UK’s textile industry.
He grew up in a large terraced house in a pretty cobbled street overlooking a large park.
A number of people from the area have previously been jailed for links to ISIS, including Britain's youngest terrorist, who plotted to murder police officers at the age of 14.
He sent encrypted messages instructing a terrorist to launch attacks during an Anzac Day parade in Australia in 2015.
In 2020, Craig Slee was jailed for three years for planting a fake bomb and ISIS material on benches outside Blackburn Town Hall.
On Monday, local mosques linked to Akram, visited by The National, were deserted as police increased security at Jewish venues across the district following the incident.
It comes as Blackburn's Muslim community was forced to retract a post about Akram’s death in which it asked for him to be “forgiven of all his sins and blessed with the highest ranks of paradise”.
Following heavy criticism, it issued a second statement on Monday apologising.
“We posted about the death of a local individual yesterday and utilised a standard template with generic wording that is used on all of our death announcements. After learning about the full circumstances surrounding his death, the post was removed,” it said.
“We apologise for any upset or offence caused to those directly and indirectly affected by the incident especially the Jewish community in Texas. This was unintentional and our thoughts are with them all.”
Mohammed Khan, leader of the Blackburn Council and a Labour Party member, released a statement condemning the incident as it surfaced Akram may have campaigned for the local Labour Party.
“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,” he said.
“We stand in solidarity in condemning this act of hate, violence and terror.”
The Blackburn Labour Party has not responded to The National's request for comment.
UK charity the Community Security Trust (CST), which offers safety and security advice to Jews and Jewish organisations, described Akram as an “Islamist terrorist”.
“While the full facts are still to be confirmed, this appears to be an attack on a Jewish target by a British Islamist terrorist, apparently in pursuit of a cause that has been the subject of widespread campaigning by British Islamists since Aafia Siddiqui was imprisoned in 2010,” the group told The National.
“The fact that there have been further arrests in Manchester underlines the potential threat to the Jewish community that this attack represents. Thankfully, on this occasion, the hostages were all unharmed, but other attacks have ended in much more tragic circumstances.”
The CST has reported a surge in anti-Semitism in Britain in the past year.
It told The National more than 180 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the first six months of 2021 in neighbouring Manchester.
Last year, four men, also from Blackburn, reportedly travelled to north London, which has a high density of Jewish residents, and shouted anti-Semitic abuse from their car. The men, all in their twenties, are due to stand trial later this year.
On Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he “absolutely stands in solidarity with the Jewish community, both in the UK and indeed in Texas” after the hostage-taking incident in a US synagogue.
“This was a terrible and anti-Semitic act of terrorism,” his official spokesman said.
Lancashire Police told The National they were liaising with the Jewish community.
“We have excellent links with our Jewish communities in Lancashire and we are working closely with them to ensure they continue to feel safe and reassured,” they said.