Inside the synagogue attacker’s 18-day journey to terror

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Sometimes, Malik Faisal Akram stood out, in unsettling ways. Back home in Blackburn, in England’s industrial north, he was the guy who was banned from the local courthouse after he threatened officials there. In his short stay in Texas, Akram stuck in the minds of people – at a mosque where he became aggressive when he was told he couldn’t stay overnight and at a Starbucks when workers noticed him as the disheveled customer who sat for half an hour, constantly looking around as he nursed his cappuccinos. But along his 4,600-mile journey from Britain to the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue where Akram would hold four hostages for 11 hours before being killed by law enforcement officers last Sunday, the 44-year-old terrorist also managed impressive stealth, entering the United States without a hitch, eluding notice in New York for several days, and wandering around Dallas and its suburbs for two weeks without attracting much attention. Nearly a week after Akram terrorized the rabbi and three members of Congregation Beth Israel, investigators are still examining where he slept, how he moved around and with whom he associated during his 18 days in the United States. He evidently knew some people: After he arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 29, Akram bought a cellphone and made calls to someone at a New York number, according to investigators. After Akram landed in Dallas around New Year’s Day, he met up with a man who took him to a center for homeless people, walked him inside and embraced him before saying farewell. The FBI said Friday that it has learned many details about Akram’s movements and contacts, although key questions remain outstanding, such as how he obtained the gun he brandished at Beth Israel. As recently as late this week, FBI agents were still knocking on doors at motels and checking footage from surveillance cameras in an effort to put together the pieces of the puzzle. “This was both a hate crime and an act of terrorism . . . rooted in antisemitism,” the FBI’s special agent in charge of its Dallas office, Matthew DeSarno, said Friday, adding that the investigation will continue. What is known is that Akram began the trip he knew would end in his death at home in Blackburn, a heavily Muslim town filled with Pakistani and Indian immigrants – including Akram’s parents. Akram grew up in a religiously conservative neighborhood. His father, Malik, founded a small mosque, one of more than 40 Muslim houses of worship in the town of 120,000 people. Akram had struggled with mental illness, according to his younger brother, Gulbar, who declined to elaborate. In 2001, days after the terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans, took down the World Trade Center and opened a flaming gash in the Pentagon, Akram was banned from court buildings in Blackburn after he told a court usher that he wished he had been on one of the planes used as weapons of war on Sept. 11. The ban was the first issued by the Blackburn court in 25 years.