By: Chandrashekar Bhat
BRITISH police said on Wednesday (26) they were holding two more men in connection with an armed hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue by a man from northwest England.
Malik Faisal Akram from Blackburn took four people, including a rabbi, hostage at the synagogue in the small town of Colleyville on January 15.
He was shot dead by the FBI after a 10-hour siege during which he demanded the release of Al-Qaeda supporter Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistan woman imprisoned for attempted murder.
His hostages escaped unharmed.
In Texas, authorities have arrested the man who allegedly sold Akram the semi-automatic handgun used in the attack.
In Britain, the Counter Terrorism Policing force for northwest England said it had arrested two men in Manchester.
“They remain in custody for questioning,” the force said in a statement.
The arrests bring to six the number of people held by British police over the hostage-taking, which renewed concern over a spike in anti-Semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic.
Three men are already being questioned by police in Manchester, and another in Birmingham.
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 Siddiqui, known as “Lady Al-Qaeda”, who has been jailed in Texas for the attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan.
Akram was reportedly investigated in 2020 by Britain’s domestic security agency MI5 after he spent six months in Pakistan.
But the probe was shut down after just over a month and he was able to travel to the US without being flagged as a risk.
Meanwhile, authorities in Texas announced the arrest of a man who they said sold Akram a semi-automatic Taurus G2C pistol two days before the synagogue attack.
The FBI said they had linked Henry “Michael” Williams to Akram through phone records, and that Williams confirmed that he had sold the gun to Akram.
Williams, 32, has a record of convictions over assault, weapons and drug-related charges.
“As a convicted felon, Mr Williams was prohibited from carrying, acquiring, or selling firearms,” federal prosecutor Chad Meacham said in a statement.
“Whether or not he knew of his buyer’s nefarious intent is largely irrelevant – felons cannot have guns, period,” Meacham said.