An al-Qaeda-supporting media group praised the Texas synagogue attacker as a martyr while users on a white supremacist forum reacted to Saturday’s events with antisemitic sentiment including one person saying he was “disappointed” that it was “not a Christian” who targeted the Jewish community.
An FBI team killed Malik Faisal Akram, 44, from the industrial town of Blackburn in Lancashire, England, on Saturday night at the end of a more than 10-hour hostage standoff. The four hostages, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, were unharmed.
Akram reportedly arrived in the United States through JFK International Airport in New York two weeks ago, and acquired a handgun between his arrival in the U.S. and his attack on the synagogue. Authorities are investigating how he traveled to Texas, where he spent spent three nights at the Union Gospel Mission Dallas homeless shelter.
BBC reported that MI-5 had Akram, who had a criminal record, on its watchlist as a “subject of interest” and investigated him in late 2020, but he was no longer viewed as a threat and moved to the list of former subjects of interest — the “closed” list includes about 40,000 people — in 2021. Akram’s brother Gulbar said that Akram suffered from mental health issues.
“This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” the FBI said in a statement, noting that Akram spoke repeatedly about Aafia Siddiqui, the U.S.-educated Pakistani neuroscientist revered in jihadist circles who is serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth. She is frequently referred to as a “sister” in Islamist extremist content out of ideological solidarity. “He wanted this woman released and he wanted to talk to her and he thought — well, he said point-blank he chose this synagogue because ‘Jews control the world. Jews control the media. Jews control the banks. I want to talk to the chief rabbi of the United States,'” said Jeffrey Cohen, the vice president for the board of trustees at Congregation Beth Israel and one of the hostages.
Al-Qaeda-supporting Jaysh Al-Malahim Al-Electroni, which publishes the “Wolves of Manhattan” magazine that encourages lone and cell jihadist activity, released an article in English and Arabic dubbing Akram “Malik al-Britani” and saying he was attempting “sister’s revenge” for Siddiqui. The group praised Akram for entering “the Temple of Descendants of Monkeys and Pigs” and detaining four Jews while “calling on the Christians to release Sister Afia Al-Siddiqui – may God free her.”
“And with this, the achievements of Brother Malik in this operation are many, the most beautiful of which is the terror that Malik [planted] in the hearts of the enemies of God,” the statement continued, stressing that the attack had “many effects” including grabbing global headlines “so that the enemies of God may understand that this Pakistani sister Aafia is supported by Brother Malik Al-Britani… and many of the other greats” and eliciting reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who spoke with Rabbi Cytron-Walker and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after the incident.
“This event is a stark reminder that the dark forces of antisemitism still exist. We must and we will fight it,” Bennett said in a video statement on the attack. “To the Jewish community in the U.S., and diaspora Jewry around the world I say: You are not alone. We are one family and we stand strong and united together.”
The last issue of “Wolves of Manhattan” marked 20 years since the 9/11 attacks and encouraged lone or paired attackers to try to emulate the operation that was carefully planned for years by al-Qaeda, arguing that the tactic of using planes as weapons is “an open door even to lone wolves.” Jaysh Al-Malahim Al-Electroni insisted that “perhaps a simple group consisting of two or more” would be “capable of humiliating the infidels with a similar operation” to the 9/11 hijackings.
The group released an issue of the magazine in April offering a bounty of $60,000 in Bitcoin to any attacker in the West who killed a Jewish, Christian or atheist police officer, and advocated taking advantage of protests to conduct vehicle attacks or otherwise whip up chaos. Days after the issue was released, Jamel Gorchene fatally stabbed a police department employee in Rambouillet, France; though investigators did not say if there was a connection to the bounty offer, they did note that Gorchene was a consumer of online terror propaganda.
Domestic extremists also reacted to the attack online, with one poster on the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront stating they were “relieved it wasn’t one of our own who did this, as it only makes the enemy exponentially more powerful when a White Nationalist cracks and goes berserker mode,” to which another forum member replied, “It’s coming.”
Another branded the attack a “false flag so Jews can get 6 million of anti-hate laws passed”; support was showed forthe “false flag” conspiracy-extremist narrative in various forums. Another Stormfront user stated that “attacks on houses of worship are not nearly as effective as attacks on ‘holocaust’ museums, monuments, and memorials could be” because “the message would be much more clear.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the attack was “a painful reminder that the threat to the Jewish community in America remains at a significant and lethal level, and that antisemitism continues to be a threat not just in America, but to Jewish communities everywhere.”
“With threats against synagogues and other Jewish institutions arguably at an all-time high, it is imperative that the federal government provides appropriate levels of funding to mitigate the threat,” Greenblatt said, calling for double the funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program. “As we saw in Texas, it is urgently critical for Congress to increase funding to protect these nonprofit organizations from future acts of terrorism or hate-motivated violence.”
Cytron-Walker told CBS that Akram knocked on the door of the synagogue early Saturday morning; the rabbi thought he may have been in need of shelter, let him inside, and made him a cup of tea.
“Making tea was an opportunity for me to talk with him. In that moment I didn’t hear anything suspicious,” he said, noting that later during the Shabbos prayer service, “I heard a click, and it could have been anything. And it turned out that it was his gun.”
In the last hour of the standoff, Cytron-Walker said it was clear the gunman “wasn’t getting what he wanted” and the hostages got ready to run. “I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman and I headed for the door,” he said. “And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
The rabbi said his earlier hostile-incident response training — from the FBI, the Colleyville Police Department, ADL and the Secure Community Network — helped prepare him. “They really teach you in those moments that when your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety,” Cytron-Walker said. “You need to do whatever you can to get out.”