A tense standoff in Texas leads to an emotional phone call between brothers

BLACKBURN, England — The conversation was urgent and emotional as Gulbar Akram crowded with police in Manchester, England on Saturday and spoke to his brother, who was holding four people hostage at a synagogue in Texas nearly 5,000 miles away.

He urged his brother Malik Faisal Akram to release the hostages and turn himself in as a standoff with police and law enforcement in the UK dragged on into the early hours of Sunday.

“When I called him during the siege, I tried to talk to calm him down,” Gulbar Akram said in a telephone interview on Monday. He offered to drive to his parents’ house and give one of them the phone. “And he said no, he declined.”

Mr Akram said he monitored the episode along with police surveillance at Manchester station and tried to reassure his brother, who he said went by the name of Faisal. Their phone call lasted about 10 minutes, Mr Akram said.

“I was in the theater with the terror police, with the negotiators who were in contact with the FBI, who were in contact with Washington,” he said.

Eventually, the hostages got out safely and an elite FBI rescue team entered the building. After a volley of gunfire, police said Faisal Akram was killed.

“I don’t know what was going through his mind,” Gulbar Akram said when asked what might have motivated his brother. But he described his sibling as a deeply troubled man who had grown distant from his family members in recent years.

The last time he saw his brother was three months ago, Mr Akram said, at the funeral for another of their brothers who died of complications from the coronavirus. Since then, his brother’s mental condition has continued to deteriorate, he said.

He said his 44-year-old brother probably shouldn’t have traveled to America at all.

“It’s common knowledge, everyone in the city knows they have mental health issues,” Mr Akram said. He did not give any further details.

Mr Akram said her parents came to the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s and raised their six sons here in Blackburn, an industrial northern town that has attracted Pakistani and Indian migrants since the 1950s, initially to jobs in the once thriving textile industry in the region.

He said Faisal Akram was married once, had six children of her own and lived with them in Manchester for a number of years.

Mr Akram said his brother was known to UK anti-terrorist police but had not given details and it could not be independently confirmed.

“How did he get to America?” Mr. Akram said. “Why was he granted a visa? How did it land at JFK and not be stopped for a second?”

The Greater Manchester Police Department said: “An investigation is ongoing and for operational reasons we will not comment further at this time.” Britain’s Counter-Terrorism Department also declined to comment.

Gulbar Akram, a local businessman who lives on a street of red brick houses on a hill overlooking Blackburn, said his elderly parents were “devastated” by their son’s death. “We lost two brothers in four months,” he said.

In the busy shopping district of Whalley Range, in the heart of Blackburn’s Asian community, many were shocked to hear the news from their former neighbour. The street is a cluster of brightly lit jewelry stores, clothing stores and restaurants as people milled around on Monday night when the call to prayer sounded from a local mosque.

“Why does it have to be a Blackburn guy?” asked Khalid Amin, 59, who owns a jewelry store with his family. Like the Akram family, they are Muslim British of Pakistani descent whose parents moved here in the 1950s in search of economic opportunities, and he worries it may reflect poorly on the wider community.

“It’s just so sad,” said Mr. Amin. “You just don’t do something like that, we’re all just shocked.”

He said that while he doesn’t know Faisal Akram well, he has known him and his family in the community for years and often waves when he passes by.

Ikhlaq Hussain, 35, who owns the Prince hair salon, grew up in the area and said the Akram family is well known in Blackburn. He described the community as close-knit, with people from different religious backgrounds “living together peacefully.”

“The very purpose of Islam is a peace-loving religion,” he said.

According to his brother, Faisal Akram was arrested in the 1990s at the age of 19 and taken to an institute for young offenders. He was later sentenced to six months in prison for violent crimes for swinging a baseball bat with his cousins ​​during a family feud. These details could not be independently verified.

The hostage situation took place at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, near Fort Worth, and spanned 11 hours when police and the FBI set up a command center outside. Portions of the standoff could be heard in live audio on a Facebook feed of Saturday morning’s services.

It was unclear why Faisal Akram chose Colleyville Synagogue. Gulbar Akram said he doesn’t think his brother had any previous ties to the area of ​​Texas where it’s located.

Mr Akram said he did not believe his brother held any anti-Semitic or racist beliefs. He shared a recording with a brief segment of his conversation with his brother, in which Faisal said he was “surrounded”.

“I’m in a synagogue, I have four beautiful boys, four Jewish boys with me,” says Faisal Akram on the recording.

The FBI said Sunday that Faisal Akram referred during the hostage hearings to Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was sentenced in 2010 in a federal court in New York to 86 years in prison for attempting to kill American military officers who was in Afghanistan in custody.

After her arrest, her case stirred activists who protested the way she was detained and transported to the United States.

At one point during the livestream segment, Faisal Akram appears to say the name “Aafia.”

Mr Akram said he knew nothing about his brother referring to the case during the siege and did not wish to speculate.

Late Sunday, England’s Greater Manchester Police Department announced it had arrested two teenagers for questioning in connection with the investigation. There were no updates on this situation on Monday.

Gulbar Akram said his family made a brief private statement among community members over the weekend, detailing their cooperation with the police. It was later posted to a Facebook page without her permission, he said.

In it, they shared their grief as a family and said they wanted to “sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize to all the victims.”

On Monday, the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the hostage taking and expressed its solidarity with the Jewish community in a statement by Zara Mohammed, the council’s general secretary.

“The act is all the more reprehensible as it was instigated at a place of worship where Jews were targeted,” the statement said, adding, “We are grateful that the hostages are unharmed.” Although some may seek to exploit such incidents for divisive ends, we must redouble our resolve to remain united against such hatred.”

Stephen Burg contributed reporting from London and Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting from Washington.

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