'Questions need to be asked' about how Texas hostage-taker travelled to US with criminal record

Correspondent Tim Scott reports from Blackburn.

A community activist, who knows the family of the Texas synagogue hostage-taker, has questioned how he was able to travel to the US with a criminal conviction.

Malik Faisal Akram, from Blackburn in Lancashire, was killed after taking four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville on Saturday 15 January.

Akram flew to the states, bought a weapon and held people against their will in a 10-hour stand-off at the synagogue.

He was shot dead after the FBI stormed the building and all four hostages walked away unharmed.

On Sunday evening, Greater Manchester Police confirmed that they had arrested two teenagers in connection with the attack in Texas, who remain in police custody.

A statement from Akram’s brother Gulbar, who said he had been involved in negotiating, said the hostage-taker “was suffering from mental health issues”.

Under US Immigration law, it is a requirement for all travelers to declare any criminal convictions when applying for a visa, which could prevent you from entering the country.

Blackburn community activist Asif Mahmud, who knows Akram's family, has questioned how Malik was allowed to travel to the US when he had a criminal record.

"How is it that he got into the USA?", Asif Mahmud asked. "The family has recognised that he had a criminal record record.

"Questions need to be asked about the intelligence services, about immigration etc. about how he got into the USA.

"But that will obviously come out in due course when the investigation picks up a pace."

US officials say Akram arrived at John F Kennedy Airport in New York two weeks ago, after securing a visa. He bought a handgun, which was later used in the hostage incident.

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

In a statement Akram's family said they were "absolutely devastated" by what had happened and “do not condone any of his actions”.

Zaffar Khan, who runs One Voice Blackburn, a charity promoting interfaith co-operation, says he does not want what happened in Texas to detract from the work they do.

He said: "We've spend weeks, months and years cultivating relationships with all communities and faiths.

"I sincerely hope this doesn't stop some of those engagements continuing. I have every faith in our community to continue with that."

Blackburn Labour MP Kate Hollburn has said the community condemns the actions of Akram.

She said: "Let's allow the FBI to do the investigation and see if there's any lessons to be learned"