LONDON — A British man who held four people hostage at a synagogue in Texas on Saturday was known to U.K. intelligence, a British security source told NBC News.
Malik Faisal Akram, 44, was probed over suspected terrorist links, but the case was closed by the time he traveled to the United States because it didn’t meet the threshold for further investigation, the security source said. Akram was named by the FBI as the gunman in the more than 10-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel that culminated in the hostages escaping unharmed before he was killed by federal agents.
Akram, who is from Lancashire in northwest England, was the subject of a short, low-level investigation by the U.K.'s MI5 domestic intelligence agency in the second half of 2020, the security source said. It lasted over a month and was based on information that he may have been involved in Islamist terrorism, the source added.
When there was no indication of a terrorist threat, the source said, Akram joined approximately 40,000 other closed “subjects of interest” in Britain who have been investigated but not found to be plotting terrorist attacks.
The U.K.'s Home Office declined to comment, citing an ongoing police investigation. The news was first reported by the BBC.
Akram was fatally shot by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, according to a senior law enforcement official.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, 46, said Monday that he and two members of his congregation were able to escape after he threw a chair at the man holding them captive.
It was only afterward that police were able to enter the Reform synagogue, in the Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville, and confront the gunman.
In a statement Sunday, Akram's family apologized to the victims and said he suffered from mental health problems.
The investigation into the attack stretched to England, where late Sunday two teenagers were detained, British authorities said. They did not release their identities, but a senior law enforcement official told NBC News the teens are Akram’s sons. They were released without charge, U.K. police said Tuesday.
After arriving in the U.S., Akram spent time in homeless shelters in the Dallas area in the weeks leading up to the hostage-taking, according to The Associated Press.
During the standoff, Akram demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a federal prisoner being held in north Texas after being convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. But it hasn’t been firmly established what else may have motivated him and why he chose the synagogue in Colleyville.
President Joe Biden called the attack “an act of terror.” His comments were echoed by British and Israeli government officials. A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday the attack was “a terrible and antisemitic act of terrorism.”
The incident renewed fears about antisemitism and the safety of synagogues not just in the U.S. but across the world.
At a service held Monday at a nearby Methodist church, Cytron-Walker thanked Colleyville and surrounding communities for the amount of “well wishes and kindness and compassion” in the wake of the attack.
Earlier, the rabbi detailed the ordeal and said he made the decision to run as Akram was melting down after hours of negotiating with law enforcement.
“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,” he told “CBS Mornings.”
The rabbi also credited the security training he’d received in the past from the FBI, Colleyville police and civilian organizations for helping him survive.