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Opinion How did the Colleyville synagogue attacker get into the U.S. — and how did he get a gun?

Malik Faisal Akram at the OurCalling homeless shelter in Dallas, where he arrived on Jan. 2 and stayed overnight. (Courtesy of OurCalling)
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Eleven hours of terror in a Texas synagogue ended mercifully this past weekend when the three remaining hostages escaped without injury. That was due in large measure to the smart thinking and quick actions of the synagogue’s rabbi, who engineered the flight from a gunman. The attack by an armed British citizen is being investigated as an act of terrorism. Among the troubling questions that must be answered is how did Malik Faisal Akram — who reportedly had a criminal record and a history of mental illness and was known to British intelligence — even manage to get into the United States? And how did he get a gun?

Saturday’s events at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, between Dallas and Fort Worth, were another horrifying example of the antisemitism that continues to haunt the world. That Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker knew what to do after he and his congregation’s worshipers were held at gunpoint was a result of the increased threats faced by the Jewish community. After the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which 11 people were killed by an assailant shouting antisemitic slurs, synagogues across the county focused more attention and resources on security. Rabbi Cytron-Walker said he had taken part in at least four active-threat trainings in recent years. “When your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety,” he told “CBS Mornings,” recounting how he threw a chair at the assailant and yelled “run” to the two other people who were still being held hostage.

Mr. Akram, 44, identified by authorities as the gunman, was fatally shot by law enforcement officers who rushed the suspect after the hostages made their escape. He had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. People who heard Mr. Akram on a Facebook live stream of services, which showed part of the attack, said he chose Congregation Beth Israel because of its proximity to the federal prison in Fort Worth where Ms. Siddiqui is being held and because “America only cares about Jewish lives.”

According to The Post’s Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, William Booth and Jennifer Hassan, Mr. Akram has been known to security officials in Britain. The BBC reported that he had been investigated in 2020 by Britain’s counterintelligence and security agency and placed on a watch list as a “subject of interest” before it was concluded that he no longer posed a threat. According to his brother, Mr. Akram had a well-known history of mental health problems and a criminal record. “How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?” asked the brother.

Good questions. After 9/11, strict security protocols were put in place to screen out people coming to the United States with the aim of doing harm. What were the circumstances of Mr. Akram’s entry through New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 29; was there a human mistake or a failure in the system that needs to addressed? It will be important for authorities to determine whether Mr. Akram acted alone. That it was seemingly so easy for him to acquire a gun — reportedly buying it off the street — underscores once again the complete folly of American gun laws.