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The hostage-taker in the Texas synagogue had ‘mental problems’, says a brother in the UK

BLACKBURN, England - The British man who was named by the FBI as the person who took four people hostage in a synagogue in Texas on Saturday, had serious mental health problems and probably should not have been able to travel to America at all, said his brother in an interview on Monday.

Malik Faisal Akram, 44, from Blackburn in the north-west of England, was killed after an 11-hour battle with police and law enforcement officers in the Beth Israel congregation in Colleyville, Texas, near Fort Worth, the FBI reports.

His brother Gulbar Akram described him in a telephone interview as a deeply troubled man who had become far removed from his family members in recent years.

"He had mental health issues," his brother said in the interview. "It is well known, everyone in town knows he has mental health issues." He gave no further details.

The British authorities, including Greater Manchester Police and the Home Office, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gulbar Akram said he was on the phone with his brother, who went by the name Faisal, when the FBI and Texas authorities tried to negotiate with him during the conflict on Saturday. He described a tense and emotional conversation with his brother, which he said he had tried to talk about to release the hostages and surrender while the conflict dragged on tonight.

After all the hostages were released, Faisal Akram died, although authorities have not provided details on how.

His brother said he did not believe his brother had anti-Semitic or racist beliefs and that he had a recording of a phone call to his brother when he was in the synagogue, referring to the hostages as "four beautiful Jews."

Mr. Akram said he was with authorities at a station in Manchester on Saturday and watched the episode through the police surveillance feed there. "I was in the incident room with the terrorist police, with the dealers, in connection with the FBI, who was in contact with Washington," he said. "Everyone was connected in that room, right?"

"We saw him release the first hostage," Mr Akram said, describing how he saw an hour later while the other three hostages were being released through the fire door.

Gulbar Akram said the last time he saw his brother was three months ago, at the funeral of another of their brothers, who had died of coronavirus complications. Since then, his brother's mental state has deteriorated further, Mr Akram said.

"I do not know what went through his head," said Mr. Akram, adding that he did not believe his brother had any previous connections to the Texas area where the synagogue is. Mr. Akram said his brother had been known to anti-terror police in the UK but did not give details.

"How did he get into America?" said Mr. Akram. "Why did he get a visa? How did he land at JFK airport and not be stopped for a second?"

Mr. Akram said his parents, who are elderly, were "devastated", adding: "We have lost two brothers within four months."

Their parents arrived in Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s, Mr Akram said, raising their six sons in Blackburn, a large city in the north-west of England, home to a significant South Asian community. Mr. Akram said his parents were not involved in the hostage negotiations.

The British authorities are working with the anti-terror police, they have said.

Late Sunday, the Greater Manchester Police Department in England announced that they had detained two teenagers for questioning in connection with the investigation.

Faisal Akram landed at Kennedy International Airport in New York before traveling to Texas. He had entered the United States legally, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.

Faisal Akram, who was one of six brothers, had been married to his own six children and lived with them in Manchester for a number of years.

According to his brother, he was arrested in the 1990s when he was 19 and sent to an institute for juvenile offenders, and was later sentenced to six months in prison for violent disorder for using a baseball bat during a family feud with his cousins. This information could not be immediately verified independently.

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

In it, they shared their grief as a family and said they would "sincerely apologize to all the victims."

Mr. Akram, a local businessman living on a street with red brick houses on a hill overlooking the city, was called up on Monday after a family member gave his details.

The northern industrial city has been attracting Pakistani and Indian migrants since the 1950s, first to jobs in the area's once thriving textile industry. Blackburn has one of the largest Asian populations in the UK, with almost a third of the population identifying as Asian or Asian Britons, according to the 2011 census.

On Monday, the British Muslim Council condemned the hostage-taking and expressed its solidarity with the Jewish community in a statement issued by Zara Mohammed, the council's secretary general.

"The act is all the more reprehensible as it was instigated in a place of worship where Jews were attacked," the statement said, adding: "We are grateful the hostages are unharmed. Although some may seek to exploit such incidents for divisive purpose, we must redouble our will to remain united against such hatred. "

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