Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are demanding that Biden administration officials explain why the British citizen who attacked a Texas synagogue this month was allowed into the U.S.
In a letter sent Tuesday, the 11 committee Republicans called on FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to explain how Malik Faisal Akram was able to enter the U.S. despite having been investigated by MI5 as a “possible terrorist threat” in 2020.
The British domestic intelligence agency determined that he did not pose a threat, but the senators raised concerns about why he was not included on a U.S. watchlist and questioned the intelligence-sharing relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
“The hallmark of success in preventing international terrorism attacks within the United States after 9/11 is our ability to prevent terrorism threats from entering the United States,” the senators wrote. “How did this system break down in this case?”
Officials say Akram, 44, entered the U.S. in December under a visa waiver program and bought a gun from someone on the streets. On Jan. 15, an armed Akram held hostage four members of the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.
After taking the hostages, he demanded the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, known as “Lady al Qaeda,” from a federal prison in Fort Worth, near the synagogue. He livestreamed part of the nearly 11-hour standoff, which ended with the hostages escaping and a police shootout in which he was killed.
The senators asked whether the FBI is investigating the person who illegally sold Akram the gun and if the bureau has determined whether Akram was part of a terrorist operation.
They also sent a separate letter Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken with similar questions on “what possible breakdowns in our screening processes allowed” Akram to enter the country.
The letter pointed to news reports saying Akram was sentenced to six months in prison in the 1990s for wielding a baseball bat during a family feud. The senators also noted that Akram’s brother told reporters that it is “well known, everybody in the town knows, he has mental health issues.”
“Would a background check of Akram have revealed his criminal record, mental health issues or whether the United Kingdom classified him as a national security threat?” the senators wrote.
The senators also took issue with the visa process.
“In light of the numerous red flags in Akram’s record, we are extremely concerned about the adequacy of our visa adjudication and admission screening protocols. As Akram’s own brother told reporters: ‘How had he gotten into America? … Why was he granted a visa? How did he land at J.F.K. airport and not get stopped for one second?’” the senators wrote.
The FBI and the State Department declined to comment and DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
The letters were signed by Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
• Emily Zantow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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