The 43-year old gunman who took four hostages in a synagogue outside Dallas on Sunday demanding the release of incarcerated Pakistani-American scientist Aafia Siddiqui, was subsequently identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a British national of Pakistani origin with ties to the extremist group Tablighi Jamaat. He was killed in a shootout with an FBI team after he freed one hostage and others escaped.
His family, which had been cooperating with the FBI during the 12-hour standoff, claimed he had freed the captives, while expressing regret for his taking hostages.
“There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender,” his brother Gulbar Akram said in a statement. Family members and associates in the United Kingdom who claimed he was suffering from mental health issues also wondered how he had managed to enter the United States given a record that included skirmishes with British law enforcement authorities.
In the US, the matter quickly escalated into political wrangling with Republicans unloading on the Biden administration alleging relaxation of border controls instituted during the Trump presidency.
Authorities said Akram had flown into the US from the UK just two weeks ago without elaborating on what kind of visa he travelled on and how he got it, given reports that he had a criminal record. By some accounts, Akram stayed in homeless shelters in the New York area before going to Dallas, where he took shelter in a synagogue before going rogue.
President Biden himself stepped into the flap, appearing to blame easy accessibility of guns in America for the episode rather than any lax border control, while speculating that Akram might have purchased the gun he was armed with “from an individual in a homeless shelter or a homeless community.”
“It’s hard to tell. I just don’t know,” Biden said, adding that while background checks are “critical” they don’t work when someone buys a gun off the street.
“There are so many guns that have been sold of late; it’s just ridiculous. And it’s because of the failure of us to focus as hard as we should and as consistent as we should on gun purchases, gun sales, ghost guns and a whole range of things that I’m trying to do,” the US President said, widening the scope of the debate around the episode.
Elsewhere, US legislators and activists unloaded on Akram’s family and the Blackburn Muslim community for not recognising the anti-Semitic nature of the attack. Criticism centered on a statement issued by the perpetrator’s family and friends that praised him and said, “May the Almighty forgive all his sins and bless him with the highest ranks of Paradise.”
The statement was later amended with the Blackburn Muslim community explaining, “We posted about the death of a local individual yesterday and utilised a standard template with generic wording that is used on all of our death announcements. After learning about the full circumstances surrounding his death, the post was removed.”
“We apologise for any upset or offence caused to those directly and indirectly affected by the incident especially the Jewish community in Texas. This was unintentional and our thoughts are with them all,” the community leaders said, adding that they “totally condemn any threats or attacks on innocent people” and that they stand in “solidarity with people of all faiths”.