In his Blackburn community, Malik Faisal Akram was known by some to be “a bit hot-headed” — a temperamental but unremarkable man.
He had a long history of petty crime and was regularly heard ranting about Jews or Palestine.
At the local magistrates’ court, where he was well-known, even the ushers were not exempt from his threats.
But amid his racist rants, the trouble with police and interventions by the social services, he was quietly adopting Wahhabism, an extremist ideology to which many terrorists around the world have been linked.
He studied the teachings of the conservative Islamic movement Tablighi Jamaat at his local mosque, the Masjid-e-Irfan. Over the years, he went on trips with other followers to preach to Muslims and non-Muslims.
In recent years, Akram attended large Tablighi Jamaat gatherings in Pakistan, which has the world’s largest following of the religion outside Bangladesh.
Concerns about his radicalisation erupted at a meeting during last year’s Gaza conflict, when a local councillor reported him to the police after he ranted about bombing Jews.
But despite the concerns of some in the community about his views, others appeared to support him, even after the attack in Texas.
In the wake of the hostage-taking, the Blackburn Muslim Community Facebook group posted that it had prayed for “the Almighty” to “bless him with the highest ranks of Paradise” in a now-deleted post.
Throughout his adult life, Akram was beset by financial problems, according to former friends and associates in the Lancashire town. His marriage to the mother of his six children had ended acrimoniously with claims he tried to control her.
At his former home in Blackburn, his ex-neighbours revealed that he was “abusive and aggressive”.
When bailiffs were sent to his home in 2018 after he failed to pay his gas and electricity bills for several months, Akram, who was muscular after many years of regular gym use, threatened them with physical violence.
As a result, the police were called and when they too were threatened, they arrested him. Much has been written and spoken in the media this week about Akram’s poor mental health — and it has been widely implied that this may have been a key reason for his decision to travel to the US to commit an act of terror.
While some of his friends and family confirmed that he had suffered from poor mental health, others said only that he had become increasingly “short- tempered” and violent.
Moreover, Akram’s former GP told the JC that his medical records showed no mental health complaints.
He said that during his dealings with Akram, he had found him to be “an intelligent man who had become extremist in terms of religious views”.
The GP added: “He came across as a confident man who didn’t need any mental help.”
Akram fell into crime in his home town at an early age. As a teenager, he first committed petty crimes, then started mixing with older boys involved in drug-dealing and local criminal networks. Soon, he was building a criminal record for himself.
He was quick to use violence to get what he wanted. Once, in 1996, he attacked a cousin with a baseball bat, resulting in a jail term for assault.
Shortly after his release, according to a source in Blackburn who spent time behind bars with him, Akram was convicted again, this time for destroying a property and harassment.
Around 1999 he started dealing drugs again and had several run-ins with the police. It is not known whether or not Akram used drugs himself, or merely used them for profit, but a family friend said Akram sold drugs in the area at that time “on a big scale”.
At around this time, his father, concerned at his wayward son’s lifestyle, found him a “beautiful” bride in the Pakistani city Jhelum and hoped that getting married would change him.
His choice was from a moderate background. For her part, the woman came to the UK hoping for a better life and future.
But she quickly discovered Akram was “a control freak”, sources told the JC.
He forced his new bride to take on Purdah (full veil) and for more than seven years she put up with his “controlling behaviour and daily abuse”. The couple had six children.
As his problems mounted, he threw himself deeper into the teachings of Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic sect that teaches the Wahhabi ideology and has been banned in several countries.
Many of his close relatives are followers of the more moderate Sunni Islam, but Akram became an increasingly devout follower of the conservative version of the religion.
Family members told the JC that he tried to impose the dogma on his family at home and succeeded for a long time, but four years ago his long-suffering wife decided that she had had enough.
She told Akram she was no longer willing to take the full veil and that she had “had enough of living as a slave,” one former friend said.
In the run-up to her move to resist him, local social workers services had become involved in the family’s affairs because Akram was refusing to send his children to school.
Soon afterwards, his wife reported him for controlling behaviour and violence. As a result, Akram was prevented by the authorities from seeing his children. His wife was moved to secure accommodation in the Liverpool area.
A source claimed that Akram’s life neared rock bottom when he lost his house to the bank about three years ago, and he had been living in another property with little or no furniture for around two years.
“He was living like a homeless man,” the source said.
Other attacks on shuls worldwide
Palestinian terrorists attack Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in West Jerusalem on 18 November 2014. Five killed including four rabbis. A sixth victim died the following year.
Jihadi Omar Abdel El-Hussein attacks the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 15 February, 2015. Jewish security guard killed, two policemen injured.
Mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in US city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 27 October 2018. Eleven killed.
Gun attack on Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, on 27 April 2019 – the last day of Passover. One woman killed and three others injured, including the rabbi.
Shooting by neo-Nazi outside a synagogue in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, on 9 October 2019. Two killed and two injured. Germany’s federal Public Prosecutor General called the attack a “violation of Germany’s internal security”.