A Tense Texas Standoff Leads to Emotional Phone Call Between Brothers

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

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

“When I phoned him during the siege, I tried to speak, talk him down,” Gulbar Akram said in a telephone interview on Monday. He offered to drive to his parents home and put one of them the phone. “And he said no, he refused.”

Mr. Akram said that he was monitoring the episode alongside the police surveillance feed in the Manchester station, trying to calm his brother, who he said went by the name of Faisal. Their phone conversation lasted about 10 minutes, Mr. Akram said.

“I was in the incident room with terrorism police, with the negotiators, liaising with the F.B.I., who were in touch with Washington,” he said.

Eventually the hostages emerged safely, and an elite F.B.I. rescue team entered the building. After a barrage of gunfire, the police said that Faisal Akram had been 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 had died from complications from the coronavirus. Since then, his brother’s mental state had further deteriorated, he said.

He said his brother, who was 44, arguably should not have been able to travel to America at all.

“It’s well known, everybody in the town knows, he has mental health issues,” Mr. Akram said. He did not provide further details.

Mr. Akram said their parents arrived in Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s and raised their six sons here in Blackburn, a northern industrial town that has drawn Pakistani and Indian migrants since the 1950s, initially to jobs in the area’s once-thriving textile industry.

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

Mr. Akram said his brother had been known to the counterterrorism police in Britain, but did not provide details, and it could not be independently confirmed.

“How had he gotten into America?” Mr. Akram said. “Why was he granted a visa? How did he land at J.F.K. airport and not get stopped for one second?”

The Greater Manchester Police department said, “There is an ongoing investigation and due to operational reasons, we won’t be commenting any further at this time.’’ Britain’s counterterrorism division 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’ve lost two brothers within four months,’’ he said.

In the busy shopping district of area of Whalley Range, at the heart of the Asian community in Blackburn, many were shocked to hear the news of their former neighbor. The street is an assortment of brightly lit jewelry shops, clothing stores and restaurants where people milled about on Monday evening, as the call to prayer rang out 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 Britons of Pakistani descent, whose parents moved here in the 1950s seeking economic opportunity, and he worries that this could reflect badly on the broader community.

“It’s just so sad,’’ Mr. Amin said.. “You just don’t do this type of thing, we are all just shocked.”

He said that while he didn’t know Faisal Akram well, he knew of him and his family from years in the community and he would often wave hello when passing by.

Ikhlaq Hussain, 35, who owns the Prince barbershop, grew up in the area, and said the Akram family was well known in Blackburn. He described the community as a close knit one where people from several religious background “coexist peacefully.”

“The real purpose of what Islam is about, it’s a peace loving religion,” he said.

According to his brother, Faisal Akram was arrested in the 1990s when he was 19 and sent to a young offenders’ institute, and was later sentenced to six months in prison for violent disorder for wielding a baseball bat during a family feud with his cousins. Those details could not be independently verified.

The hostage-taking occurred at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, near Fort Worth, unfolding across 11 hours as police and the F.B.I. set up a command center outside. Parts of the standoff could be heard on live audio on a Facebook feed of the Saturday morning services.

It was unclear why Faisal Akram chose the Colleyville synagogue. Gulbar Akram said he did not believe that his brother had any previous connections to the Texas area where it is.

Mr. Akram said he did not believe his brother held antisemitic or racist beliefs. He shared a recording featuring a short segment of his conversation with his brother, in which Faisal said he was “surrounded.”

“I am in a synagogue I have four beautiful guys, four Jewish guys with me,” Faisal Akram can be heard saying on the recording.

The F.B.I. said on Sunday that during the hostage negotiations Faisal Akram had made reference to Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, who was convicted in 2010 in federal court in New York and sentenced to 86 years in prison for trying to kill American military officers while she was in custody in Afghanistan.

After her arrest, her case galvanized activists who have protested against 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 did not know anything about his brother referencing this case during the siege and did not want to speculate.

Late on Sunday, the Greater Manchester Police Department in England announced that it had detained two teenagers for questioning in connection with the investigation. It did not provide any updates on that situation on Monday.

Gulbar Akram said that his family had shared a short, private statement among community members over the weekend, which described in detail their cooperation with the police. It was later posted on a Facebook page without their permission, he said.

In it, they shared their sadness as a family and said they wanted to “sincerely apologize wholeheartedly 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 from Zara Mohammed, the council’s secretary-general.

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

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


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