Disbelief in English town after local man takes hostages at Texas synagogue

Activist says Blackburn’s Muslim community is shocked by Malik Faisal Akram’s ‘unacceptable’ attack on Jewish house of worship 7,400 km away, questions why he was allowed to fly

Rows of terraced houses are pictured on a residential street in Blackburn, northwest England, on January 17, 2022. (Paul Ellis/AFP)
Rows of terraced houses are pictured on a residential street in Blackburn, northwest England, on January 17, 2022. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

BLACKBURN, England (AFP) — Community leaders in Blackburn, northwest England, on Monday voiced their shock after a local man took four people hostage more than 4,500 miles (7,400 kilometers) away at a Texas synagogue.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, died after a 10-hour siege in the small town of Colleyville on Saturday. All four hostages escaped unharmed. US President Joe Biden called it an “act of terror.”

Britain has promised its “full support” to US investigators. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman described the drama as a “terrible and antisemitic act of terrorism.”

Counterterrorism police arrested two teenagers in Manchester, 21 miles (34 kilometers) from Blackburn, on Sunday.

In Blackburn, a run-down former mill town where 28 percent of the population identify as Asian or British Asian, activist Asif Mahmud said the close-knit local Muslim community was shocked.

Mahmud, 50, told AFP that Akram came from a “well-known and well-respected family,” and that he last saw him at his brother’s funeral about three months ago.

Congregation Beth Israel hostage-taker, identified as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram. (courtesy)

He called the hostage-taking “unacceptable,” echoing similar condemnation from the Muslim Council of Britain, a national umbrella body of Islamic groups.

But, he said, “questions have to be asked” about how Akram managed to get to the United States in the first place.

Akram’s family have said he had mental health problems, while Mahmud said it was “well-known” that he had a criminal record.

“How is it he got through immigration?” he asked.

“There’s possible failing in the intelligence services. But obviously the investigation process will establish the ins and outs of why and what happened.”

A man who identified himself as Akram’s brother, Gulbar, posted on Facebook that the family did not condone his actions, and apologized to everyone involved.

“I’ve got friends… who are in touch with the family, and they’re obviously distraught trying to come to terms with what’s happened,” said Mahmud.

“They’ve lost a son and they’ve lost a brother. They’re just struggling to understand what’s happened here.”

SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue during a hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, January 15, 2022; Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. (Andy Jacobsohn/AFP; Congregation Beth Israel)

The Muslim community of Blackburn was “in solidarity with the Jewish community, and our sympathy goes out to the hostages and the rest of the Jewish community.”

“People should be allowed to live freely without fear of violence or terror,” he said.

Biden declined to speculate on the motive for the hostage-taking, but indicated that Akram had been seeking the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist known as “Lady Al-Qaeda.”

Detained in Afghanistan in 2008, she is serving an 86-year sentence for the attempted murder of US officers in the country, and held at a prison in Fort Worth, Texas, 20 miles from the Beth Israel synagogue Akram attacked.

Her detention has become a cause celebre for global jihadists.

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