Malik Faisal Akram, a British citizen from Blackburn, England, was shot dead by law enforcement over the weekend after he allegdly took hostages at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas– none were killed. Akram was heard demanding the release of a Pakistani national in prison for trying to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
While U.S. authorities have been tight-lipped about Akram, British media outlets have reported that he entered this month, either on a tourist visa or via the Visa Waiver Program, through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
Meanwhile, the U.K. Telegraph reported that he had spent three terms in prison, had been a member of radical Islamist group Tablighi Jamaat and been banned from a magistrates court in 2001 for telling an official he wished they had been killed in the 9/11 attacks. The Times of London reported that MI5 had briefly investigated him but determined there was no reason to elevate the case.
While that has raised questions about British intelligence services, Republicans are also calling for answers amid concerns about vetting on the U.S. side. The FBI has declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Sen. Josh Hawley, who also sits on the committee, wrote to both Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for answers and tied the attack to an alleged failure in vetting by the administration — arguing it is “past time to begin conducting in-person vetting of immigrants to this country.”
He cited other reports that Akram had participated in “anti-Semitic demonstrations and marches for the release of terrorist prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.”
“How is anyone with this background allowed to enter our country?” he asked in the letter, noting that Akram’s family had asked a similar question. “Either your Departments knowingly allowed entry to someone with demonstrated sympathies for terrorist organizations and predilection toward violence, or they failed to conduct even a cursory background check.”
Hawley requested information, including whether Akram received an in-person interview, if agencies were aware of his record and what measures the agencies intend to take going forward.
Authorities have not confirmed if Akram did use the Visa Waiver Program, which allows nationals from select countries, including Britain, to come into the U.S. for up to 90 days without a formal visa. However, if he did, he would have had only to fill out an online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) verification form. ESTA, an automated U.S.-based system, checks the applicant’s details and any criminal history and gives an approval or denial often within minutes. They would also be briefly screened by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer on arrival into the United States.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., in a statement to Fox News Digital, said the reports about Akram’s ease of entry into the U.S. were “alarming.”
“I expect DHS and the Biden administration to brief Congress on the failures of our immigration system to detect this individual,” Johnson, who also sits on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said. “If DHS does not, we will call on Senate Democrats to demand these officials testify before Congress. The Jewish community, and all Americans, deserve transparency and accountability into this preventable attack.”
Meanwhile, in the House, GOP leader Kevin McCarthy asked in a statement: “How was it that someone with an apparent criminal record and suspicious travel history was allowed into the United States to begin with?”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the case and said that Akram had been checked on a number of databases but that no red flags had been raised.
“Well, 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. And the U.S. government did not have any derogatory information about the individual in our systems at the time of entry,” she said. “We’re certainly looking back as a reference to what occurred to learn every possible lesson we can to prevent attacks like this in the future.”