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All hostages freed from Texas synagogue after standoff

January 16, 2022

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has confirmed four people taken hostage are "out safe and alive." Police said the hostage-taker is dead, with both US and Israeli authorities having closely monitored the crisis.

Colleyville police secure the area around Congregation Beth Israel synagogue
Police are conducting SWAT operations around Congregation Beth Israel synagogueImage: Jessika Harkay/AP Photo/picture alliance

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas tweeted late Saturday that four people taken hostage at a synagogue in the small city of Colleyville were freed after an hours-long standoff.

"Prayers answered," Abbott wrote. 

Authorities in Colleyville, a city of about 26,000 in northeastern Texas, had spent Saturday negotiating with the suspected hostage taker, a British natoinal who had entered the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue during Saturday services. Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. local time Saturday. 

After hours of negotiation, Colleyville police said they had conducted SWAT operations on Saturday evening. Police chief Michael Miller told a news conference that a "rescue team breached the synagogue" and rescued three hostages being held inside. Another hostage had been released unharmed a few hours earlier.

Police said the hostage taker was shot and killed. FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno told The Associated Press that the man had been identified, however, his identity would not be released at this time. 

DeSarno added that the released hostages were not in need of medical attention. 

Police in a parking lot
Law enforcement officials gather after a press conference in Colleyville, TexasImage: Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo/picture alliance

What happened at the Texas synagogue? 

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper said the service at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue was being live-streamed on Facebook before the incident occurred, but the video was cut off.

It added "muffled audio of what sounded like negotiations with police" could be heard.

The suspect initially took the synagogue's rabbi and three others hostage, according to ABC News.

Shortly before the live feed was cut off, the man reportedly said: "You got to do something. I don't want to see this guy dead," according to The Associated Press.  A Meta company spokesperson later confirmed that Facebook removed the video.

A SWAT team in camouflage uniforms
A SWAT team gathers at a school nearby the synagogue on Saturday afternoonImage: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP/Getty Images

The man had claimed to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who was convicted of attempting to kill US military personnel in Afghanistan, and is serving an 86-year prison sentence at a prison in Fort Worth, according to ABC news. 

However, it was later reported that Siddiqui's brother is in Houston, and experts pointed out the use of the word "sister" the man used in Arabic had a more figurative meaning. 

In a statement to CNN, Siddiqui's lawyer said she had "absolutely no involvement" in the hostage situation. The lawyer confirmed that the man was not Siddiqui's brother, and said she condemned his actions.

FBI special agent DeSarno said the hostage taker seemed to be focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community and there was no immediate indication that the man's actions were part of any broader plan. 

However, DeSarno added the FBI investigation "will have global reach.''

Stacey Silverman, a member of Congregation Beth Israel who watched the livestream until it was cut, told CNN the hostage taker said he flew into the Dallas Fort Worth airport and chose the synagogue as it was closest to the airport.

US broadcaster NBC News reported that "the hostage taker at the synagogue in Texas had the rabbi call a different rabbi in New York City. The purpose of the call was to again demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui."

NBC News added that New York police had deployed counter-terrorism teams to the synagogue where the rabbi who received the call in New York "out of an abundance of caution." 

What was the reaction as events unfolded? 

Dallas mayor Eric Johnson tweeted Dallas police had deployed additional patrols to Dallas synagogues and other sites. 

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote US President Joe Biden "has been briefed about the developing hostage situation" and added, "Senior members of the national security team are also in touch with federal law enforcement leadership." 

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Twitter that he is "closely monitoring the hostage situation."

"We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers," Bennett wrote. 

fb,ar/sms,wd,wmr (Reuters, AP)

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