The FBI has identified the man who held members of a North Texas synagogue hostage for almost a dozen hours over the weekend as a 44-year-old British national.
In a statement released on Sunday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno confirmed that Malik Faisal Akram is the person who took four people hostage a day earlier during a service at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. There is currently no indication that other individuals were involved, according to the agent, who has not yet announced a possible motive.
DeSarno said the FBI’s Evidence Response Team “will continue processing evidence at the synagogue,” while the agency’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force keeps following investigative leads. An FBI Shooting Incident Review Team will “conduct a thorough, factual, and objective investigation of the events.”
Akram was killed in a “shooting incident” when an FBI SWAT team entered the synagogue, ending the hours-long tense standoff that was initially being recorded due to the service streaming live on Facebook. One of the hostages was initially released, and three others got out after law enforcement stormed the building. On Saturday night, the FBI and Colleyville police spokespeople declined to answer questions about who shot Akram when the standoff ended. All hostages are safe.
Akram is originally from the Blackburn area of Lancashire in the United Kingdom. Counterterrorism officials in the U.K. told the Lancashire Telegraph that the agency is assisting authorities in the U.S. with the investigation and that police in the region “will continue to liaise with their local communities, including the Jewish community, and will put in place any necessary measures to provide reassurance to them.”
Akram’s brother, Gulbar, in a post that appears it has since been taken down from the “Blackburn Muslim Community” Facebook page, confirmed his brother died in Texas and said that “we are absolutely devastated as a family.”
“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,” he wrote. “Sitting in the incident room all last night at Greenbank until the early hours liaising with Faisal, the negotiators, FBI etc and although my brother was suffering from mental health issues we were confident that he would not harm the hostages.”
While media has reported that the three other hostages were rescued by law enforcement, Akram’s brother claims Akram released them himself through the building’s fire exit. A few minutes later, gunfire ensued and Akram was fatally shot, he said.
“There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender,” the brother said, adding that FBI agents are expected to soon fly into the U.K. “so we don’t have much else to share at the moment.”
“Obviously, our priority will be to get him back to the UK for his funeral prayers although we have been warned it could take weeks,” he wrote. “We would also like to add that any attack on any human being be it a Jew, Christian or Muslim is wrong and should always be condemned. It is absolutely inexcusable for a Muslim to attack a Jew or for any Jew to attack a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, vice versa.”
Before the livestream was taken offline, Akram could be heard ranting incoherently and demanding the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges she assaulted and shot at U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan who detained her two years earlier. She is currently incarcerated at a facility near Fort Worth.
Several reports said Akram was heard referring to Siddiqui as his “sister,” however the board chair for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Houston chapter said that his legal client — Siddqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui — was not involved.
“This antisemitic attack against a house of worship is unacceptable,” board chair John Floyd said, condemning the hostage incident as “wicked” and saying the suspect “has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia.”
Siddiqui’s incarceration has sparked outrage among political leaders and supporters in Pakistan, as well as human rights activists and groups like CAIR, who say she has fallen victim to the American criminal justice system by being falsely accused by the U.S. government. They also claim she has been attacked by other inmates, including allegedly getting a mug of hot liquid smashed onto her face.
Terrorist groups have also demanded the U.S. release Siddiqui, who during her trial suggested that anyone with “a Zionist or Israeli background” be excluded from the jury pool and that potential jurors be “subject to genetic testing.”
“This was an act of terror,” President Joe Biden told reporters on Sunday while in Philadelphia. The president also thanked law enforcement for their work on making sure Saturday’s hostages were safely released. “I don’t have all the facts and neither does the attorney general, but allegedly the assertion was [Akram] got the weapons on the street, that he purchased them when he landed. And it turns out there were apparently no bombs that we know of, even though he said that there were bombs there as well.”
While DeSarno said Saturday that Akram was “singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” Biden maintained that he told Attorney General Merrick Garland “to make sure we got the word out to synagogues and places of worship that we’re not going to tolerate this, that we have the capacity to deal with the assaults on — particularly the anti-Semitism that has grown up.”
The president said he planned to call Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was among the four hostages. Cytron-Walker released a statement on Sunday saying that he is “grateful to be alive.”
“I am thankful and filled with appreciation for all of the vigils and prayers and love and support, all of the law enforcement and first responders who cared for us, all of the security training that helped save us,” he posted on Facebook. “I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI Community, the Jewish Community, the Human Community. I am grateful that we made it out. I am grateful to be alive.”