WASHINGTON: The Texas synagogue hostage-taker had mental health issues but no criminal records, the US media reported on Monday.

The accused, Malik Faisal Akram, was from Blackburn, UK, and his family had migrated to Britain from Jhelum nearly 50 years ago. He broke into the Beth Israel synagogue on Saturday, holding four hostages for more than 12 hours.

FBI agents raided the synagogue on Saturday evening and killed Akram who, according to US media reports, had refused to surrender.

Media reports claimed that Faisal Akram was married to a Muslim woman from the Indian state of Gujarat and has five sons and a daughter. He had marital problems and had poor relations with his father as well. He also lost a brother to the Covid -19 pandemic recently.

On Sunday, the British police raided Akram’s house in Blackburn and detained two teenagers, believed to be his sons.

In a statement shared by the Blackburn Muslim Community, Faisal’s brother Gulbar Akram said his sibling suffered from “mental health issues” and that his family worked with FBI negotiators to secure the hostages’ release.

“Although my brother was suffering from mental health issues, we were confident that he would not harm the hostages,” Gulbar wrote. “At around 3 a.m. the first person was released, then an hour later he released the other 3 people through the fire door unharmed.”

“A few minutes later a firefight took place and he was shot and killed… There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender,” Gulbar added.

Faisal Akram had earlier identified himself as Faisal Siddiqui, brother of Pakistan-born neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui and had asked for her release from a federal prison in Texas, where she is serving an 86-year sentence for attempting to murder US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2010.

On Sunday evening, US President Joe Biden confirmed the attacker had sought her release, saying the Texas attack was related to “someone who was arrested 15 years ago and has been in jail for 10 years”.

US media reports also suggested that this FBI-led investigation may spread across three continents, focusing primarily on Faisal Akram’s activities in Britain.

His reported demand for Dr. Siddiqui’s release will also lead to contact between the FBI and the authorities in Pakistan, the reports added.

Dr. Siddiqui, however. has distanced herself from his actions, issuing a statement through a lawyer as did her brother who lives in Houston, Texas.

President Biden said that Faisal Akram “got the weapons” he used in the attack “on the street” and “purchased them when he landed” in the US about two weeks ago.

Pointing out that the captor had earlier threatened to blow the synagogue with bombs, President Biden said, “It turns out there apparently were no bombs that we know of.”

Mr. Biden also said that the hostage-taker “spent the first night (in the US) in a homeless shelter.”

Responding to another question, he said it was not clear whether he purchased the gun “from an individual in a homeless shelter or a homeless community.”

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2022

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