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Texas synagogue attacker was fatally shot by FBI; authorities are piecing together his movements in the U.S.

The Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Tex., was the site of a hostage incident Jan. 15. (Ralph Lauer/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
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The British gunman who took four hostages inside a Texas synagogue was in contact with another individual in the United States before launching the kidnapping, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is in its early stages. But so far investigators do not believe that second person was involved in the plot, which ended when the hostage-taker was shot by FBI agents.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, had been known to security officials in Britain, two other officials told The Washington Post. The BBC reported Tuesday that MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence and security agency, investigated Akram in 2020 and had him on a watch list as a “subject of interest” but concluded that he no longer posed a threat. Britain’s Home Office declined to comment.

FBI agents, who are investigating the hostage-taking on Saturday as a terrorist act, have assembled a partial timeline of Akram’s actions leading up to it. While their portrait still has some gaps, it overall suggests Akram was a disturbed individual whose behavior occasionally raised concerns — but not urgent alarms — among security officials.

Investigators are particularly focused on tracing Akram’s steps from the moment he arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Dec. 29. By Jan. 2, he was in Dallas, dropped off at a center for homeless people by a man who walked him inside and embraced him before saying goodbye.

Thirteen days later, Akram knocked on the door of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville, sat through part of the live-streamed Shabbat service, and then displayed a weapon. He took four hostages: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, congregant Jeffrey Cohen and two others.

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Akram told his captives that he wanted to secure the release of Aafia Siddiqui — an American-educated Pakistani woman widely known as “Lady al-Qaeda” who was convicted of terrorism charges in 2010.

The hostages escaped after an 11-hour standoff.

As soon as the hostages fled, members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team rushed in, using a stun grenade device to try to disorient the gunman and then fatally shooting him, according to law enforcement officials. They cautioned that the sequence of events was over in a matter of seconds and will now be the subject of an extensive review by FBI examiners.

Upon arriving in the United States, Akram bought a cellphone with a New York area code, investigators believe, and made a number of calls to another New York number. Investigators have identified that person, and so far it does not appear they played a role in the gunman’s plans, according to one law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

Malik Faisal Akram, the gunman who took four people hostage at a synagogue in a Dallas suburb, was identified on Jan. 16 as a British citizen. (Video: Reuters)

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Investigators in the United States and England have been able to retrieve a significant amount of electronic data about Akram’s movements and interests in the days before he came to the synagogue, including a number of Internet searches he conducted as he looked for a target, officials said.

Authorities believe he stayed only a few days in New York before flying to Texas, where he spent time in at least one center that serves homeless people.

According to surveillance video shown to The Washington Post, Akram showed up at OurCalling, a Christian ministry for homeless people in Dallas, on the night of Jan. 2. He was escorted there by an unidentified man, who hugged Akram before leaving, according to the video.

Akram was tested for the coronavirus and stayed overnight, sleeping on the floor along with nearly 200 others seeking refuge from freezing weather. He ate breakfast in the morning and left, the center said. Nothing seemed alarming, officials said, and they thought to review their records only after the synagogue attack.

Wayne Walker, the chief executive of OurCalling, said Akram said “nothing that was remarkable” during his brief stay. Those who stay generally are not searched, and if Akram had a weapon at that point, Walker said, there were no indications he was armed. The facility has armed security, including former law enforcement personnel, who would have intervened if there had been a sign of danger, Walker said.

FBI agents are still figuring out what Akram did for the rest of the nearly two weeks he was in the Dallas area before the synagogue attack, and officials cautioned that their understanding of his actions and motivations could change as they continue to gather evidence.

At some point while he was in Texas, he bought a pistol on the street, investigators believe. Authorities have traced that pistol to a last recorded purchase in 2020, but it isn’t immediately clear how the gun from that transaction later ended up in Akram’s hands, according to law enforcement officials.

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People who heard Akram on the live stream of services, which carried part of the ordeal, said he chose the synagogue because it appeared to be the closest gathering of Jewish people to a federal prison in Fort Worth where Siddiqui is being held on an 86-year sentence for trying to kill American soldiers.

As the hostage standoff stretched on Saturday night, the gunman made statements indicating that the situation was deteriorating, in part because he became increasingly skeptical that the FBI would accede to his demands to free Siddiqui, according to one official.

Akram, who is originally from Blackburn in the English county of Lancashire, grew up in a family well known in his community; his father is the founder of a small mosque. Akram had struggled with mental illness, according to his brother, Gulbar Akram, who declined to elaborate.

Gulbar Akram told the Lancashire Telegraph that during the hostage standoff, he pleaded with his brother to surrender. “I realized that this may be the last time I would speak to him,” Gulbar said. “I tried to convince him and think about his kids. I told him ‘pack it in’ … ’pack it in.’ His mind was made up. At no point did he say he would harm these people.”

British investigators trying to understand Malik Faisal Akram’s actions and motives detained his teenage children for questioning, according to law enforcement officials. Greater Manchester Police said Sunday that two teenagers were taken into custody for questioning by counterterrorism officers and that the department would assist U.S. officials with their inquiry; they said Tuesday that those teens were released without being charged.

In the live stream of Saturday morning’s service, Akram said he had spent 16 hours somewhere in the synagogue’s area, “walking around with what I have in my bag, and with my ammo.” Law enforcement officials did not say what explosive devices they found. But they ordered evacuations in the area while officers disposed “of some ordnances on the scene.”

Douglas reported from Dallas and Booth reported from Blackburn, England. Jennifer Hassan contributed reporting from London.

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