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US authorities arrest suspect who sold gun to synagogue hostage-taker

Malik Akram purchased semiautomatic Taurus G2C pistol 2 days before Texas standoff, telling dealer he needed it to ‘intimidate’ someone who owed him cash, Justice Department says

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022.(Andy Jacobsohn/AFP)
SWAT team members deploy near Congregation Beth Israel, a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022.(Andy Jacobsohn/AFP)

The US Justice Department announced Wednesday that American authorities carried out their first arrest following the hostage standoff at a synagogue in Colleyville a week and a half earlier.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District Henry charged Henry “Michael” Williams with a federal firearm crime for selling Malik Faisal Akram the gun he used to hold four worshipers hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on January 15, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Akram released one of the hostages midway through the standoff and the other three escaped after 11 hours, before FBI officers breached the synagogue and killed the 44-year-old British national in a shootout.

Until the Wednesday announcement, it was unclear how Akram had acquired the weapon used. US President Joe Biden told reporters the attacker “allegedly… purchased it on the street.”

Williams, 32, is a felon previously convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and attempted possession of a controlled substance, according to the Justice Department.

Williams joins four other suspects who have been arrested in connection to the hostage standoff, though those four were all detained by authorities in the UK, where Akram lived. Two of those suspects were arrested earlier Wednesday while the other two were released.

This January 2, 2022 photo provided by OurCalling, LLC shows Malik Faisal Akram, at a Dallas homeless shelter. (OurCalling, LLC via AP)

It was not clear from the Justice Department statement when exactly Williams was arrested. He was interviewed by FBI agents on January 16, when he recalled meeting a man with a British accent.

“Agents interviewed the defendant again on January 24, after he was arrested on an outstanding state warrant,” the statement said.

“After viewing a photo of Mr. Akram, Mr. Williams confirmed he sold Mr. Akram the handgun at an intersection in South Dallas,” the Justice Department continued. “Analysis of both men’s cellphone records showed that the two phones were in close proximity on January 13.”

Williams was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm on Tuesday, via criminal complaint.

Williams sold Akram a semiautomatic Taurus G2C pistol on January 13 — two days before the hostage standoff — with Williams revealing to agents that Akram told him he needed the weapon to “intimidat[e]” someone who owed him money.

Explaining the charge against him, the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas said, “Federal firearm laws are designed to keep guns from falling into dangerous hands. As a convicted felon, Mr. Williams was prohibited from carrying, acquiring, or selling firearms.”

FBI Special Agent In Charge Matthew DeSarno speaks at a news conference near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images via AFP)

“Whether or not he knew of his buyer’s nefarious intent is largely irrelevant — felons cannot have guns, period, and the Justice Department is committed to prosecuting those who do,” the statement added.

Williams made an initial court appearance before US Magistrate Judge Renée H. Toliver on Wednesday and has a remand extension set for January 31.

Akram had planned the attack for at least two years, wanting to die as a “martyr,” according to audio of his last phone call with his brother released by the London-based Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

The attack was staged in an apparent bid to win the release of Pakistani woman Aafia Siddiqui, known as “Lady Al-Qaeda,” who has been jailed for the attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

AFP contributed to this report

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