Jewish Leaders Roiled Over FBI’s Nixing of Anti-Semitic Motive to Texas Synagogue Takeover - The Jewish Voice
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Jewish Leaders Roiled Over FBI’s Nixing of Anti-Semitic Motive to Texas Synagogue Takeover

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FBI Releases Statement Saying Jews Were Targeted But Are Being Protected by Agency

By: Fern Sidman

The gunman who took four people hostage on Saturday at a Texas synagogue in a 12-hour standoff that ended in his death was checked against law enforcement databases before entering the U.S. but raised no red flags, the White House said Tuesday, as was reported by the AP.

Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen, arrived in the U.S. at Kennedy Airport in New York on a tourist visa about two weeks ago, officials said. The AP reported that he spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the attack Saturday in the suburb of Colleyville.

This Jan. 2, 2022 photo provided by OurCalling, LLC shows Malik Faisal Akram, at a Dallas homeless shelter. Akram, the armed man who took four people hostage during a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue on Saturday, Jan. 15, had spent time in area homeless shelters in the two weeks leading up to the attack, and was dropped off at one by someone he appeared to know. (OurCalling, LLC via AP)

Akram was not believed to be included in the Terrorist Screening Database, a listing of known or suspected terrorists maintained by the FBI and shared with a variety of federal agencies, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. Had he been included, it would have been extremely difficult for him to get into the country.

“Our understanding, and obviously we’re still looking into this, is that he was checked against U.S. government databases multiple times prior to entering the country, and the U.S. government did not have any derogatory information about the individual in our systems at the time of entry,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, according to the AP report.

On Monday, it was reported by several sources that the brother of Malik Faisal Akram, has claimed that his brother had a previous criminal record.

Gulbar Akram, the brother of terrorist Malik Faisal Akram, has revealed that his brother had a criminal record in comments to UK media, raising questions about how he was allowed into the United States.

According to Inzamam Rashid, North of England correspondent or Sky News, Gulbar Akram said of his brother: “He’s known to police. Got a criminal record. How was he allowed to get a visa and acquire a gun?”

In a previous statement, Gulbar claimed that his brother suffered from “mental health issues.”

The AP reported that on Tuesday, the British media, including the Guardian, indicated that Akram was investigated by the domestic intelligence service MI5 as a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020, but authorities concluded he posed no danger, and the investigation was closed.

Britain’s Home Office did not immediately comment on the reports.

The AP reported that the case illustrated once more the difficulties in identifying potential lone-wolf attackers, despite the U.S. government’s enormous strides in its counterterrorism efforts since 9/11.

Akram is from the English industrial city of Blackburn. Investigators believe he had initially traveled to New York believing that Siddiqui was still being held there — where her trial occurred — without realizing she had been sent to a federal prison in Texas, as was reported by the AP.

During the standoff in the Colleyville, Texas synagogue known as Congregation Beth Israel, Akram forced Cytron-Walker to call Angela Buchdahl, the senior rabbi at New York’s Central Synagogue, in a bid to win Aafia Siddiqui’s release, according to the AP report.

Charlie Cytron-Walker, rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, center, makes a statement to the media after a service at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. The church held a healing service for congregants and members of the community after Saturday’s standoff at the synagogue. (Rebecca Slezak/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani neuroscientist with ties to al-Qaeda who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. She is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence in a Texas jail.

In at least one subsequent call, Akram ranted and demanded that Buchdahl try to get Siddiqui freed, an official said. Buchdahl called 911 and reported the calls to New York City police.

The AP reported that investigators are still sorting through Akram’s movements in the U.S. and reviewing his financial and phone records, but believe he may have traveled by bus to Texas, two of the officials said.

Authorities believe he bought the handgun used in the hostage-taking in a private sale, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on, according to the AP report.

In another major terrorism case, Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub in 2016, had been investigated repeatedly by the FBI but not charged, as was reported by the AP. The Orlando massacre and other attacks prompted the FBI to launch an internal review of how it handled tips and leads in terrorism investigations.

In the aftermath of the Texas synagogue hostage crisis, Jewish leaders around the country remain baffled about the FBI’s initial position on Malik Faisal Akram, the terrorist who held four people hostage on Saturday afternoon at a Colleyville synagogue.

The FBI’s remark that made the wire services such as Associated Press, the BBC and other outlets late on Saturday said that the hostage taker’s motive was “not specifically related to the Jewish community.” At that juncture the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, did not release the hostage taker’s name and offered no details on his background.

The comment to the media was made by FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno, who is in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office.

The Forward reported that a BBC headline declared: “Texas synagogue hostage stand-off not related to Jewish community – FBI.” The AP headline, “Hostage taker was not focused on Jewish community, FBI says,” ran atop an article on bostonglobe.com and many other news outlets.

On Sunday, the FBI released the hostage taker’s name, age and the fact that he was a British national. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to questions Sunday about Akram’s immigration status and history, according to the AP. London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement on Sunday that its counter-terrorism police were liaising with U.S. authorities about the incident, but provided no additional information.

Police stand in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas. A man held hostages for more than 10 hours Saturday inside the temple. The hostages were able to escape and the hostage taker was killed. FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said a team would investigate “the shooting incident.” (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The comment that the FBI’s DeSarno gave to the media caused a ripple effect amongst Jewish leaders who reacted with anger and puzzlement.

In an e-mail to supporters, Anti-Defamation League President Jonathan Greenblatt, said: “We urge law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate the role antisemitism may have played in motivating the suspect.” Greenblatt also said that “it seems apparent, given what we know so far, that the hostage-taker chose his target carefully.”

On Monday, Israel National News reported that in the wake of the Texas hostage crisis, the ADL has called on Congress to double the allocated funding for a program that provides non-profits, including Jewish schools and synagogues, with financial assistance to increase security.

Bolstering the federal money given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program is essential with “threats against synagogues and other Jewish institutions arguably at an all-time high,” Greenblatt said, as was reported by INN.

“It is imperative that the federal government provides appropriate levels of funding to mitigate the threat,” Greenblatt said. “As we saw in Texas, it is urgently critical for Congress to increase funding to protect these non-profit organizations from future acts of terrorism or hate-motivated violence.”

Noting that it has long supported an increase in funding to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the ADL said that the money is needed to “protect soft targets from potential acts of terrorism.”

The Forward also reported that on Sunday, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, policy director at the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, tweeted: “Yes, it was a complete and total coincidence that the gunman ended up in a synagogue holding Jews captive. Can’t believe the erasure of the Jew hatred at the core of this incident has already begun.”

Fox News reported that Kenneth Marcus, the founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and former assistant U.S. secretary of education for civil rights told Fox News Digital that “the FBI got it wrong.”

He said that the attack was “obviously a matter of antisemitism.”

“Failure of the FBI to understand this is something of a pattern with law enforcement in the United States and frankly in Europe. It seems that time after time, we see law enforcement officials fail to understand when an antisemitic incident occurs, even when it’s entirely obvious, and sometimes the results of that are tragic. This time, fortunately, they have not been,” Marcus said, as was reported by Fox News.

Also speaking to Fox News was Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, an organization that educates individuals about Israel and combats antisemitism. She told Fox News that the notion the hostage-taker did not target the Jewish community is “insulting and disappointing.”

“Trying to separate Jews from the idea that JEWS were targeted on their holy day at their house of worship, is a mistake and it is insulting and disappointing,” Rothstein said, according to the Fox News report.

“It is also dangerous to downplay an attack against Jewish people as being something else at a time of rising anti-Jewish bigotry that we should all be paying attention to. It makes no sense to try and separate Saturday’s hostage crisis from the people who suffered and who were the most impacted: Jews, their Jewish families and the Jewish world,” she added.

Concerning Akram’s demand for the immediate release of Aafia Siddiqui, in a January 2012 article entitled, “The Marxist Mission to Destroy Ayaan Hirsi Ali”, second wave feminist leader, scholar and prolific author, Dr. Phyllis Chesler wrote the following of Siddiqui:

“As a student in America, Siddiqui joined the infamous Muslim Students Association and fell under the spell of one of bin Laden’s own mentors who ran a Muslim charity in Brooklyn, New York. Siddiqui’s second husband’s uncle was none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who planned 9/11. Apparently, the kindly uncle-in-marriage gave up her name to interrogators. However, Siddiqui and her children had disappeared. She was not found until 2008, wandering around in Afghanistan with bomb-making formulas in her possession as well as plans for mass casualty attacks. Under questioning she picked up a gun and shot at her captors.”

In a statement sent to the Jewish Voice on Monday, Dr. Chesler said: “Siddiqui has been, misguidedly, lionized, not only by Islamists, but also by Westerners, including academics, journalists, and feminists who view her actions as heroic, as a form of resistance to racism and colonialism.”

Dr. Chesler added: “But what did she do? After disappearing in Pakistan for many years, she was found “wandering” around in Afghanistan and, according to the DOJ indictment, bearing handwritten notes that referred to a “mass casualty attack” and listed locations in New York City including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and the Brooklyn Bridge. An American trained neuroscientist, Siddiqui also had notes about how to construct a “dirty bomb” and a thumb drive that referred to specific “cells” and “enemies.”

She was arrested in Ghazni and while being interviewed “obtained a U.S. officer’s M-4 rifle and attempted to fire it, and did fire it at another U.S. Army officer and other members of the interview team. That’s not all. She then assaulted one of the interpreters as he tried to obtain the rifle and subsequently also assaulted an FBI agent and other U.S. Army officers who were trying to subdue her.”

Late on Sunday afternoon, the UK based Sun newspaper reported that two teenagers were arrested in the British city of Manchester by anti-terror cops investigating Malik Faisal Akram.

In a statement issued to the media, the Greater Manchester Police said: “As part of the ongoing investigation into the attack that took place at a synagogue in Texas on January 15, 2022, officers from Counter Terror Policing North West have made two arrests.

Two teenagers were detained in south Manchester but on Tuesday, the AP reported that police in Britain said the teenagers had been released without charge.

Yahoo News reported that in statement released on Sunday night, the FBI attempted to quell the controversy swirling around Agent DeSarno’s statement to the media in the immediate aftermath of the hostage seize.

The FBI stated: “All of us at the FBI are relieved the hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, was resolved without physical injury to those taken hostage. We never lose sight of the threat extremists pose to the Jewish community and to other religious, racial, and ethnic groups. We have had a close and enduring relationship with the Jewish community for many years. We continue to work tirelessly with the Secure Community Network, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation, and others to protect members of the Jewish community from all potential threats.”

Law enforcement teams stage near Congregation Beth Israel while conducting SWAT operations in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 15, 2022. Authorities said a man took hostages Saturday during services at the synagogue where the suspect could be heard ranting in a livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

The bureau continued by clarifying, “This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Preventing acts of terrorism and violence is the number one priority of the FBI.”

(Sources: AP, the Forward, Fox News, Yahoo News, INN)

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