Seven lessons to learn from the Texas synagogue attack

It has been two days since the hostage crisis in Texas, where a gunman took four hostages at a synagogue.  He had demanded the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui from a nearby federal prison.

The FBI has identified the current terrorist as Malik Faisal Akram.  Akram, 44, is a British subject who hails from Blackburn in the United Kingdom.

Akram was shot dead by the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team after the last of the hostages was evacuated from the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue.

A federal law enforcement sources told CNN that Akram had entered the U.S. on a tourist visa in December 2021 via JFK International Airport in New York.  Akram then traveled to Texas, where he spent three nights at Union Gospel Mission in Dallas, a homeless shelter, from which he moved in and out multiple times over the course of a week.  He eventually left the facility for the last time on Jan. 13.

U.K. law enforcement has been coordinating with their counterparts in the U.S., and two teenagers from Manchester, reportedly Akram's children, have been arrested and quizzed in connection with the incident.

This crisis offers the following lessons to learn:

1. The first question to ponder is how a purportedly mentally unstable man with a criminal record in the U.K. and no financial backing, such that he was compelled to live in a shelter, received a visa to travel to the U.S.

This highlights the need for better cooperation among law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies in the U.S. and other countries from where travel visas to the U.S. are issued.  There is a need for mental evaluation and stricter verification of police and financial records before granting permission to enter the country. 

2. The open borders owing to the Biden administration's ineptitude or deliberate policy have facilitated an influx of unvetted and illegal immigrants. There have also been reports of Afghan refugees being allowed into the U.S.  Since there is almost no record-keeping of citizens or their criminal records in Afghanistan, vetting is impossible.

This has made U.S. citizens vulnerable to terror attacks.

3. Texas gun laws do not allow non-resident foreign nationals to legally purchase firearms.  Akram had arrived in the U.S. two weeks ago, yet he was able to procure a gun.  This once again proves that laws pertaining to control or ban or confiscation of firearms will have no effect on the ground; those who want to obtain a weapon will circumvent the law.

It is therefore essential to allow only mentally sound citizens with no criminal record to own guns that can be used for self-defense. 

4. The presence of armed personnel within the synagogue might have resolved the crisis sooner.  According to a Facebook post by a claimed former congregant, the rabbi did not allow members to be armed during services.  But synagogues across the U.S. must now consider protection by armed guards.

5. FBI special agent in charge Matt DeSarno said the bureau believed that the man was "singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community," adding that they will continue to "work to find motive."  If the FBI didn't have all the information since their investigation is in progress, they should have stayed silent.  This denial of the antisemitic motives of the hostage-taker was factually incorrect, and "the FBI backtracked and issued an updated statement declaring, "This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted, and is being investigated by the Joint Terrorism Task Force."

It has to be remembered that convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, whose release Akram was seeking, was rabidly antisemitic.  She had demanded that her jury should be genetically tested so Jewish persons could be excluded.

Also, if Akram merely wanted hostages, he would have targeted a crowded location such as a shopping mall.  The choice of synagogue, despite the fact that it had only four individuals present, makes his antisemitic motives obvious.

The fact that the investigative agency chose to dilute the antisemitic angle is unfortunate.  It is said that denial of obvious bigotry is bigotry.

How can citizens expect an objective investigation and a factual disclosure of information when the motive that is obvious to all is being denied?

6. In a statement, Akram's brother condemned the attack but added that Akram was "suffering from mental health issues."

His side also claimed to be "confident that he would not harm the hostages."  They also claimed: "There was nothing we could have said to him or done that would have convinced him to surrender."

Also, a post shared on Facebook by the Blackburn Muslim Community that had condemned the attack read:

Mohammed Akram (Inkerman Street, Blackburn) has sadly departed from this temporary world and returned to his Creator.

May the Almighty forgive all his sins and bless him with the highest ranks of Paradise. May Allah give strength and patience to his loved ones in dealing with their loss.

You would be forgiven for believing that Akram died for a noble cause for which he deserves the "highest ranks of Paradise."

These statements highlight the lack of willingness to combat radical Islam within the Muslim community.

The claim that he was mentally unstable is obviously incorrect.  If that were the case, he would have committed a random act of violence or ranted obscenities in the streets.  Akram had a clear demand: to free a convicted Islamist terrorist.  His choice of venue to hold hostages was also well thought out.  He may have been unstable, but not unhinged enough not to comprehend his mission or hold hostages for ten hours.

file photo of Akram provides a clue that he was radicalized.  This radicalization must have been evident to his community, including his relatives, yet he wasn't reported to the authorities in the U.K.

7. It is also essential to judge a terror attack not solely based on the number of casualties, but on what could have occurred and the psychological effect it has on the community that was targeted.  The attack from yesterday did not cause any deaths, but it might have, had the matter gotten out of hand.  The community, however, is traumatized.  The PTSD suffered by the four hostages and the Jewish American community is immeasurable.

In the end, for a doctor to cure an ailment, he has to first name it and identify what causes it.  Being euphemistic and vague will only allow complications to worsen.

Similarly, if the U.S. is to combat radical Islamic terrorism, the fight has to begin with a fearless and objective assessment of the situation and its causes.

If intelligence and law enforcement agencies, politicians, and the news media continue to indulge in understatement for the fear of offending a minority religion practiced by non-white people, you can expect many more incidents such as the one in Texas.

While the hostages in the synagogue were freed or escaped unharmed, not every potential victim may have such luck.

Photo credit: WFAA screen grab.

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