When 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram traveled internationally from the United Kingdom to New York, then made his way down to Texas to carry out a threatening hostage situation that remained ongoing for nearly 11 hours prior to his death, it gained worldwide attention, bringing up questions of how the British national was able to cross borders effortlessly, obtain a weapon and carry out what’s being investigated as a terrorist attack.
With many unknowns and moving parts, including Akram’s movements in Texas for over two weeks, the investigation remains ongoing. Here’s what we know so far.
What did Akram do in the weeks leading up to the hostage situation?
Akram arrived at JFK International Airport on Dec. 29. That same day, the 44-year-old British national purchased a cell phone with a New York area code and made numerous calls to another phone number from the area, the New York Post reported.
The New York-based newspaper also reported that Akram called family members back home, requesting money and telling them he was traveling to Texas to get married. Two days later, he boarded a flight to Texas.
On Jan. 2 he stayed at OurCalling Resource Center in Dallas on South Cesar Chavez Boulevard and told people that he had been sleeping on the streets. Patrick Palmer, chief advancement officer at OurCalling, said they traced back Akram’s stay in the resource center’s records after learning he had also stayed at Union Gospel Mission in Dallas for a few days later in the month.
Akram showed up at OurCalling a little after 10 p.m. and was dropped off by a heavy-set man in a gray hoodie who wore a beanie, Palmer said. Akram left the next day.
CNN reported that Akram stayed at the Union Gospel Mission Dallas for three days, the week prior to the hostage situation, checking in on Jan. 6, before checking out and checking back in multiple times throughout the week. He officially checked out on Jan. 13.
“We were a way station for him. He had a plan. He was very quiet. He was in and out,” Union Gospel CEO Bruce Butler told CNN.
“Butler couldn’t gather much about Akram’s personality and said there was not anything obvious or revealing regarding Akram’s personal religious beliefs,” CNN reported.
It’s unknown how Akram later traveled to Colleyville, and whether he stayed in any shelters in Tarrant County. Officials in Tarrant County said even if Akram had stayed at their shelters, they couldn’t share additional information because of confidentiality.
Hostage-taker got ‘agitated’ in visit to Islamic Center of Irving
CBS reported Tuesday night that Akram was in Irving just days before the hostage situation and had an “uncomfortable encounter” with the Islamic Center of Irving.
“He came in and he did his prayers and then asked if he could spend the night in the mosque,” said Khalid Hamideh, a spokesperson for the center, to CBS. He added that Akram became angry when he wasn’t able to spend the night.
“He got a little agitated saying, ‘You’re not helping out a fellow brother in the faith’ and all that stuff,” Hamideh told the TV station. “When he did get agitated he was shown the door and left.” CBS reported that Akram spent at least one night in a nearby motel.
Little is known about the rest of Akram’s movements in DFW.
Where did he get a weapon?
It’s still uncertain exactly Akram obtained a firearm, though President Joe Biden in a news conference Sunday said officials believe that the 44-year-old “got the weapons on the street. He purchased them when he landed.”
Law enforcement investigators told the Washington Post that they believe Akram bought a handgun on the street at some point after he arrived in Texas.
“Authorities have traced that pistol to a last recorded purchase in 2020, but it isn’t immediately clear how the gun from that transaction later ended up in Akram’s hands, according to law enforcement officials,” the Post reported.
“Allegedly, he purchased [a firearm] on the street,” Biden repeated. “Now what that means, I don’t know. Whether he purchased it from an individual in a homeless shelter or a homeless community, or whether — because that’s where he said he was — it’s hard to tell. I just don’t know.”
Biden also confirmed there were no bombs that authorities are aware of, though Akram made claims to have a bomb, according to what one of the hostages told the Star-Telegram.
OurCalling told the Star-Telegram on Tuesday that they’re unsure whether Akram had a weapon by the time he visited their shelter.
The Dallas-based shelter said it doesn’t make people who come to seek shelter go through a metal detector, nor do they check their bags, which is done in an effort to not criminalize them.
Palmer said 80% of people experiencing homelessness are usually resistant to that type of treatment, and won’t go into a shelter that takes those measures.
The Islamic Center of Irving was also unaware if Akram had the firearm during his visit, and they feel “fortunate that he walked away,” CBS reported.
“He had like a man purse with him and God knows if he had the gun with him already and thank God that he didn’t shoot anybody or do anything bad at our place,” Hamideh told CBS. “I’m shocked that he did not do something like this at our mosque because they said he was really agitated the first day.”
A warning for places of worship to stay alert
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have warned houses of worship across the United States to remain alert for any copy-cat attacks or threats of violence.
“Faith based communities have and will likely continue to be targets of violence by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists,” according to a letter from Paul Abbate, FBI deputy director, and John D. Cohen, the top intelligence official at DHS, obtained by CNN.
Bill Humphrey, the director of community security at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, told CBS that synagogues around the area have been part of ongoing preparation efforts for situations similar to Saturday’s hostage crisis.
Preparation measures include: training, security, security site assessment and emergency communication.
Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and one of the hostages, Jeffrey Cohen, credited their security training with the FBI and Colleyville Police Department for the handling of the hostage stand-off.
“There are certain things you look at to size someone up,” Cohen told the Star-Telegram. “We got this from the active-shooter course, and the things to look at are their eyes darting around, are they sweating profusely, or their hands a little shaky. But he made eye contact, he was smiling, he was jovial, he said hello.”
Authorities are still investigating the hostage situation at Colleyville's Congregation Beth Israel, but new information released has helped piece together a clearer picture of the suspect's whereabouts before he arrived at the synagogue Saturday.
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— WFAA (@wfaa) January 19, 2022
After the service began around 10 a.m., Cohen and Cytron-Walker heard “that unmistakable sound of an automatic slide engaging a round.” Moments later, Cohen, who said he keeps his phone next to him during services, dialed 911 quickly and turned the phone screen down on the chair.
Cohen and others at the synagogue — living in a world in which American Jewish people are no stranger to the threat of insidious attacks, even in houses of worship — had received training on what to do in case of an active shooter.
Humphrey had told CBS that antisemitic activity has risen over 127% in between 2019 and 2020 in the North Texas and Oklahoma area.
Part of that training led Cohen and the other hostages’ plan for escape from the beginning. When Akram ordered Cohen to go to the back of the room, Cohen instead lined up with one of the exits, a decision that may have saved their lives. The rabbi threw a chair at Akram, and the hostages ran out that exit.