The man who took hostages in a Texas synagogue was identified as British and two young men were arrested in the United Kingdom for alleged links to that incident, which the United States described as a “terrorist act.”
The hijacker, who died Saturday in the 10-hour siege of a synagogue in the small town of Colleyville, was identified by the FBI as Malik Faisal Akram, 44.
British counter-terrorism police announced on Sunday the arrest of two men who were questioned in connection with the incident.
“Two teenagers were arrested in Manchester South tonight, they remain in custody,” Manchester Area Police said in a statement.
The FBI office in Dallas had said earlier that there was “no indication” that anyone else was involved in the attack on the synagogue of the Beth Israel congregation. They also did not give more details about Akram or his motives.
The four hostages – including a respected local rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker – were released unharmed on Saturday night, bringing relief to the United States where the Jewish community and President Joe Biden renewed the call to fight anti-Semitism. .
Biden assured that the incident was “an act of terrorism” related to “someone who was arrested 15 years ago and has been in jail for 10 years”, apparently confirming press reports according to which the kidnapper demanded the release of the Pakistani scientist. Aafia Siddiqui, sentenced for terrorism to 86 years in prison.
Biden also promised to “oppose anti-Semitism and the rise of extremism in this country,” speaking to reporters during an event in Philadelphia.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also called the episode an “act of terrorism and anti-Semitism.”
A man who identified himself as Akram’s brother said on Facebook that the suspect had mental problems.
“As a family, we do not condone any of his actions and would like to sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize to all the victims involved in the unfortunate incident,” he said, adding that the family hopes to retrieve Akram’s body for his funeral in Britain.
Following the end of the incident, FBI Special Agent Matt DeSarno told reporters in Colleysville that the investigation would be “global in scope.”
“We have been in contact with multiple FBI leads including Tel Aviv and London,” he added.
Police did not say whether Akram was killed by the hit team or committed suicide.
– ‘No involvement’ –
Siddiqui is the first woman suspected by the United States of links to Al Qaeda, and her cause is celebrated in Pakistan and in South Asian jihadi circles.
She was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008. Two years later she was convicted in New York for the attempted assassination of US officials in that country.
She is currently being held in a Fort Worth, Texas prison.
In a statement to CNN, Siddiqui’s attorney said she had “absolutely no involvement” in the hostage situation and condemned the incident.
DeSarno would not confirm the suspect’s claims, but said they were “focused on an issue that was not specifically a threat to the Jewish community.”
– A Facebook Live –
At one point, the standoff involved some 200 local, state and federal law enforcement officers massing around Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.
A live feed from the congregation’s Facebook page during the Sabbath morning service appeared to capture the man’s voice speaking very loudly, though it did not show the scene inside the religious center.
In that broadcast a man could be heard saying, “Put my sister on the phone” and “I’m going to die.” He also expressed: “There is something wrong with the United States.”
ABC News reported that the hijacker was armed and claimed to have bombs in various locations. This has not been confirmed.
One of the hostages was released early in the confrontation. After hours of what police say were extensive negotiations with the suspect, an elite SWAT team stormed the synagogue.
Journalists who were nearby reported hearing a loud bang – probably a fragmentation grenade used as a distraction – and gunshots.
– ‘Horrible’ –
Ellen Smith, a member of the congregation who grew up going to that synagogue, told CNN that the situation was “shocking and horrifying.”
But he said it is “not surprising” that the crisis is taking place in a Jewish community.
“Instances of anti-Semitism have been on the rise lately, but ever since Jews have walked the Earth, we have been persecuted,” he said.
The incident aroused concern among the Jewish community and the Israeli government, whose Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was “closely” monitoring the situation.
Synagogues in several US cities increased security after the attack, although officials said they did not believe the incident was part of a global threat.