Synagogue gunman Malik Faisal Akram had been investigated by MI5 but was deemed not to be a threat

Credit: ITV News

The British man who was shot dead after taking worshippers hostage at a Texas synagogue was under investigation by MI5 in late 2020 but he was judged not to be a threat to national security, ITV News understands.

Malik Faisal Akram from Blackburn was killed after taking four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday.

All four hostages were unharmed after they managed to run out of the synagogue with a SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team entering soon after. Akram died at the scene.

On Monday, ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo revealed that Akram travelled to New York from Manchester on December 29 - just over two weeks before the shootings - with a return flight booked for February 2.

It is not yet clear how Akram, who had a criminal record in the UK, was able to travel to the US and buy the gun used in the standoff.

According to reports, Akram stayed at a homeless shelter and is believed to have bought a gun on the street before taking four people hostage at the synagogue on Saturday, one of whom was released after around six hours.

Akram became a subject of interest (SOI) for MI5 when he was investigated in 2020 but was assessed not to pose a credible threat to national security so was downgraded and marked a “closed” SOI.

He was not subject to a live investigation when he travelled to the US, the Press Association news agency understands.

How does MI5 investigation 'subjects of interest'?

MI5 investigates around 3,000 SOIs and has about 600 live investigations at any one time. There are also around 40,000 “closed” SOIs – those who have been looked into previously. Significant numbers of SOIs are overseas.

The security service only investigates SOIs when it believes the individual may pose a threat. This threat will be ranked by priority and resources will be dedicated to them depending on the level of threat they are judged to pose.

As soon as they are no longer deemed to pose a threat, they are downgraded and placed on the closed list.

This does not suggest they will never pose a threat again, but rather than their current level of threat is not considered sufficient to prioritise allocating resources to them. This situation could change at any time and be re-assessed.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who was held hostage in the synagogue, recalls how he and a few other hostages managed to escape the gunman

US President Joe Biden has branded the incident “an act of terror” and UK police are working with authorities in America on the investigation.

On Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she had spoken to her US counterpart Alejandro Mayorkas and offered “the full support” of the UK police and security services in the investigation.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) announced that officers from Counter Terror Policing North West had arrested two teenagers in south Manchester on Sunday evening.

GMP said police forces in the region are liaising with local communities to put in place any measures to provide further reassurance.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the people held hostage in the synagogue, described his "terrifying" ordeal.

He recalled making tea for Akram before the congregation but said although Akram's story didn't add up, he did not hear anything suspicious.

Malik Faisal Akram, who held four people hostage inside a synagogue in Texas, has been pictured.

It was during prayer, when Rabbi Cytron-Walker had his back turned as he faced towards Jerusalem, that he heard the click of Akram's gun.

He said: "The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn't getting what he wanted. It didn't look good, it didn't sound good, we were terrified.

"And when I saw an opportunity where he wasn't in a good position, I made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me, that they were ready to go, that the exit wasn't too far away.

"I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman and I headed for the door and all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired."

He added he was "so grateful" the prayer was done partly virtually, with fewer people at the synagogue during the attack.

He also said training he had with various authorities allowed him and the other three hostages to make it through the 10-hour ordeal, the rabbi said.

Akram was shot following the 10-hour standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville Credit: AP

Akram’s family said they were “absolutely devastated” by what had happened and “do not condone any of his actions”, according to a statement that had been shared on the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook page.

The statement, attributed to Akram’s brother Gulbar who said he had been involved in negotiating from the UK with his sibling during the ordeal, added that the hostage-taker “was suffering from mental health issues”.

US officials believe Akram had a visa, arrived at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York around two weeks ago and bought a handgun used in the incident.

Condemning what had happened, the statement from Akram’s family said: “We would like to say that we as a family do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely apologise wholeheartedly to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident.”

The hostages managed to leave the building unharmed on Saturday Credit: AP

Akram is said to have demanded the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted of trying to kill US army officers in Afghanistan, and is in prison in Texas.

Speaking to reporters after the incident, FBI special agent in charge Matt DeSarno said they believed the man was “singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community”, and added they will continue to “work to find motive”.

Confirming that the hostage-taker had died, he said there would be “an independent investigation of the shooting incident”.

He said the FBI had been in contact with their legal attache offices in London and Israel for an investigation with “global reach”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has condemned the “act of terrorism and anti-Semitism”, while the British Ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce said UK authorities are providing “full support to Texas and US law enforcement.