Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday condemned antisemitic violence after the Justice Department came under fire for its initial response to last weekend’s hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue.
In prepared remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mr. Garland said he and President Biden “will not tolerate attacks on synagogues or other houses of worship.”
“We will not tolerate violence or threats of violence fueled by antisemitism, hatred, racism or bigotry of any kind,” the attorney general said.
His comments come after Republican lawmakers criticized the FBI for initially claiming the armed British attacker, Malik Faisal Akram, was not fueled by antisemitism when he held hostage four members of the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, on Saturday. An FBI official said Mr. Akram’s motivation was “not specifically related to the Jewish community.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, tweeted on Saturday that the “FBI is failing Jewish Americans and needs to reevaluate their statement immediately.”
After taking the hostages, 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 near the synagogue. Akram, 44, livestreamed part of the nearly 11-hour standoff, which ended with the hostages escaping and a police shootout that killed him.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, tweeted on Sunday that “it is very disturbing to hear from the FBI they do not believe the hostage taker’s demands had anything to do with the Jewish faith.”
“Apparently the FBI believes the hostage taker randomly selected a synagogue to demand the release of al-Qaeda operative and facilitator Aafia Siddiqui,” Mr. Graham tweeted.
The FBI walked back the claim in a statement on Sunday, referring to the attack as “a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday rebuked the bureau’s about-face.
“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,” the California Republican said in a statement.
“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.”
Mr. Garland told the mayors on Friday that the morning after the attack, he briefed Mr. Biden on the department’s response and “ongoing efforts to evaluate the full range of threats that our country faces.”
“The FBI and Justice Department supervisors repeatedly run crisis scenarios and the Joint Terrorism Task Force runs countless exercises to develop and foster cooperation among federal state and local law enforcement,” he said.
“I want to assure you that even in this case, our work is not done. The FBI is now working full time to determine whether this perpetrator acted alone or with others.”