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Texas synagogue gunman was probed by UK’s MI5 in 2020 as possible terror threat

Domestic security agency said to have received information about Malik Faisal Akram that prompted an investigation, but it was soon shut down for lack of evidence

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

The man who attacked a synagogue in Texas at the weekend had been investigated by British security services in 2020 as a potential Islamist terrorist threat, but the probe was closed, according to media reports Tuesday.

US authorities have identified the captor as British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, 44. Akram was shot dead at the end of a 10-hour siege in the small town of Colleyville on Saturday, after the four hostages he took were freed or escaped.

On Tuesday British media outlets including The Guardian, The Times and the BBC reported that Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence agency in 2020 received information about Akram, who lived in Blackburn in northwest England. There were no details on what the information included.

The reports, citing unnamed government sources, said this prompted an investigation, but the probe was shut down again after a little over a month due to lack of evidence that he was a threat. The agency is now expected to review the investigation.

MI5 keeps tabs on around 3,000 jihadist suspects at any one time, and has investigated up to 40,000 individuals in total.

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

The four hostages — including a respected local rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker — were all freed unharmed Saturday night, prompting relief in the United States, where the Jewish community and Biden renewed calls to fight antisemitism.

Biden declined to speculate on the motive but appeared to confirm reports that the hostage-taker was seeking the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist known as “Lady Al-Qaeda,” whose detention has been a cause celebre for jihadists.

At one point the standoff involved 200 local, state and federal law enforcement officers massed around Colleyville.

The incident raised questions about why Akram, whose family said he had mental health problems and was known to have a criminal record, was allowed to enter the country at the end of last year.

US law enforcement vehicles sit in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP)

A local Texas aid group said he had spent time in area homeless shelters in the two weeks leading up to the attack, and was dropped off at one by someone he appeared to know.

Akram was brought to the shelter in downtown Dallas on January 2 by a man who hugged him and had conversations with him, said Wayne Walker, CEO and pastor of OurCalling, which provides services to homeless people.

“He was dropped off by somebody that looked like he had a relationship with him,” said Walker, who said they’d turned photos and video over to the FBI.

An FBI spokeswoman said late Monday that they did not have any information they could confirm regarding Akram’s stay at the OurCalling facility. The agency has said there was no early indication that anyone else was involved in the hostage-taking.

Several British media outlets have also reported that Akram was banned from a local court in Blackburn for disparaging remarks he made to staff in the days after 9/11, which included rants about the attacks.

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