House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday accused the Justice Department of “downplaying” the terrorism aspect of the recent hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue.
Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, questioned how the attacker was allowed into the U.S. and whether the Justice Department’s focus on rightwing extremists resulted in a blind spot for a religious-fueled foreign terrorist threat.
“Over the past 48 hours, President Biden’s Justice Department has gone from denying the clear and religious, anti-Semitic implications of this attack to now backtracking to what we all already knew to be true,” he said in a statement.
As more information becomes available, Mr. McCarthy said more questions arise about the Biden administration’s initial handling of the probe into the armed British citizen who on Saturday held hostage four members of the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.
“Why were Biden officials downplaying terrorist attacks within our borders?” he said. “Why did the FBI initially disregard the role anti-Semitism played in this hostage situation?”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 10-hour hostage standoff ended with the hostages escaping and a police shootout that killed the attacker, Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British citizen.
After taking the hostages, Mr. Akram demanded the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is known as “Lady al Qaeda,” from a federal prison in Fort Worth, which is nearby the synagogue.
Mr. McCarthy questioned why Mr. Akram was allowed to enter the U.S. despite his “apparent criminal record and suspicious travel history.” Officials say Mr. Akram flew into New York on a tourist visa about two weeks ago.
British media outlets reported on Tuesday that Mr. Akram was under investigation by MI5 as a “possible terrorist threat” in 2020. The domestic intelligence agency, however, determined that he did not pose a threat.
Mr. Akram is believed to have purchased the weapons used in the attack on the street. His family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues” but did not elaborate.
Mr. McCarthy asked if there were missed “indications” leading up to the attack due to resources being redirected to other areas and what national security concerns remain in the aftermath.
“The Biden administration must answer for how this case has already been mishandled and must provide a clear strategy on how they plan to continue to investigate the outstanding terror threats,” he said.
A few hours after he released the statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that officials did not have “derogatory information” on Akram when he entered the U.S.
“Our understanding, and obviously we’re still looking into this, is that he was checked against U.S. government databases multiple times prior to entering the country,” Ms. Psaki said during a news conference.
Mr. Akram is not believed to be listed in the Terrorist Screening Database maintained by the FBI and other federal agencies, according to an Associated Press report that cited two unnamed law enforcement officials.
“We’re certainly looking back, as I referenced, at what occurred to learn every possible lesson we can to prevent attacks like this in the future,” Ms. Psaki said.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.