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Texas synagogue hostage-taker was British citizen

The man who took four people hostage at a synagogue near Dallas on Saturday was a British citizen, police said, as US president Joe Biden vowed to fully investigate what he called an “act of terror”.

The FBI identified the armed man as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, adding that there was “no indication that other individuals are involved”. UK police said Akram was originally from the Blackburn area of Lancashire.

The revelations come a day after what Texas governor Greg Abbott had described as a “tense hostage situation” at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, a city about 25 miles west of Dallas.

Police evacuated the area around the synagogue after being called to an “emergency situation” at about 11am, after an armed man interrupted a service that was being livestreamed on Facebook.

At least four hostages, including the synagogue’s rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, were held inside for several hours. One male hostage was released shortly after 5pm local time, as FBI crisis negotiators continued to talk with the suspect.

Late on Saturday, Abbott said all of the people held hostage had been released uninjured. The hostage-taker died in a shooting, police said, but gave no further details.

Local media at the scene reported a loud bang and rapid bursts of gunfire shortly before Abbott declared that the hostages had been released safely.

“Prayers answered,” Abbott wrote on Twitter.

Biden told reporters on Sunday that the stand-off in Colleyville had been an “act of terror”, adding that he was working with US attorney-general Merrick Garland to “address these type of acts”.

Asked how the suspect could have purchased weapons following reports he had only been in the country a number of weeks, Biden said: “The assertion was he got the weapons on the street. He purchased them when he landed.”

Biden added that the suspect had apparently “spent the first night in a homeless shelter”.

Karen Pierce, the UK ambassador to the US, said earlier on Sunday that she was “deeply concerned by the news from Texas” and that British authorities were “providing . . . full support to Texas and US law enforcement agencies”.

“The UK & US stand shoulder to shoulder in defiance of terrorism and in defence of the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens,” Pierce said on Twitter.

Greater Manchester Police confirmed that the dead man was from Blackburn, adding that officers from Counter Terror Policing North West were assisting in the investigation.

Matthew DeSarno, an FBI special agent, said the suspect was “singularly focused on one issue not specifically related to the Jewish community” but did not elaborate.

The suspect could be heard on the livestream demanding the release of a woman that law enforcement officials said was Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda. Siddiqui was convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, and is serving an 86-year prison sentence in Texas.

Biden said it was not yet clear why the suspect “targeted that synagogue or why he insisted on the release of someone who’s been in prison for over 10 years”.

“But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country,” he added.

US authorities had increased security at Jewish places of worship after an anti-Semitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2018. A lone gunman killed 11 people and wounded six in that attack.

“This situation is a painful reminder of the fact that synagogues in America continue to be at risk for terrorist attacks,” Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil-rights group, said in a statement. “Though the hostages have been rescued, we urge continued vigilance in securing synagogues and all Jewish institutions . . . to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community.”

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