Courts

Feds Nab Dallas Man Who Allegedly Sold Handgun to Colleyville Synagogue Hostage-Taker

The hostage crisis lasted nearly 12 hours before FBI agents shot and killed Malik Faisal Akram
The hostage crisis lasted nearly 12 hours before FBI agents shot and killed Malik Faisal Akram News 360 TV , CC BY-SA 4.0
Henry “Michael” Williams had already been convicted of a felony and wasn’t even supposed to have a gun himself, federal authorities say, but that didn’t stop him from selling a handgun to a man he recalled only as someone with a “British accent.”

The man with the accent was Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old United Kingdom national who later took hostages at the Congregant Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville on Jan. 15. The FBI shot and killed Akram during the hours-long standoff, and the hostages were freed unharmed.

Williams had sold Akram the semiautomatic Taurus G2C pistol in South Dallas two days before the hostage crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice in North Texas said in a press release Wednesday. He’s now facing a federal firearms charge.

Williams appeared in court Wednesday afternoon, and his detention hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31.

According to the criminal complaint, Williams had previously been convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and attempted possession of a controlled substance. Federal investigators say they linked Williams to Akram through a series of phone calls made between the pair over a two-day span.

Williams reportedly told federal authorities that Akram had explained he needed to weapon to “intimidate” someone who owed him money.

“Federal firearm laws are designed to keep guns from falling into dangerous hands,” said U.S. Attorney Chad E. Meacham in the release. “As a convicted felon, Mr. Williams was prohibited from carrying, acquiring, or selling firearms.”

Meacham added, “Whether or not he knew of his buyer’s nefarious intent is largely irrelevant — felons cannot have guns, period, and the Justice Department is committed to prosecuting those who do.”

In the release, Dallas FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said agents had worked “around the clock” to uncover how Akram “acquired the weapon he used to terrorize worshipers at Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel synagogue.”

Federal authorities have described the incident as a hate crime and an act of terrorism.

The FBI has said that Akram traveled from the U.K. to the United States late last year, and that by taking the hostages, he had hoped to secure the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was sentenced to more than eight decades in prison for trying to kill U.S. military members in Afghanistan in 2010.

Siddiqui is imprisoned in Fort Worth, around 20 minutes from the synagogue Akram targeted. British police have also arrested or detained at least six people in connection to the incident.

Gulbar Akram, the hostage-taker's brother, has said his brother suffered from mental health problems. During the standoff, Gulbar tried to talk his brother into releasing the hostages and surrendering, The New York Times reported.

"When I phoned him during the siege, I tried to speak, talk him down," he told the Times. "And he said no, he refused." He added, "It’s well known, everybody in the town knows, he has mental health issues."

In a statement, President Joe Biden thanked law enforcement and offered "love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community."

He added, "But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country."
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Patrick Strickland is the news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's a former senior reporter at Al Jazeera English and has reported for the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.