Hostages Safe After Standoff Inside Texas Jewish Temple; Captor Dead

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) —
Shortly after 5 p.m., local time, authorities escort a hostage out of the Congregation Beth Israel temple in Colleyville, Texas, Saturday. (Elias Valverde/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Hostages who had been held for hours inside a Reform Jewish temple in Colleyville, Texas, were rescued Saturday night, according to Gov. Greg Abbott, bringing an end to a standoff that had lasted nearly 12 hours.

“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Abbott tweeted.

Abbott’s tweet came not long after a loud bang and what sounded like gunfire was heard coming from Congregation Beth Israel, where authorities said a man had held four people captive as he demanded the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.

The hostage-taker was later declared dead. Details of the rescue or the man’s death were not immediately released.

Four hostages were taken; the temple’s rabbi was believed to be among them. One hostage was released uninjured shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday. The man did not require medical attention. The other three were freed later, when the standoff ended.

Authorities are still trying to discern a precise motive for the attack. The hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, the officials said. He also said he wanted to be able to speak with her, according to the officials. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.

The officials said investigators have not positively identified the man and cautioned that the information was based on a preliminary investigation.

A rabbi in New York City received a call from the rabbi believed to be held hostage in the temple to demand Siddiqui’s release, a law-enforcement official said. The New York rabbi then called 911.

Police were first called to the temple around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after that, FBI Dallas spokesperson Katie Chaumont said.

The services were being livestreamed on the temple’s Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut out. A Meta company spokesperson later confirmed that Facebook removed the video.

Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream, but Faizan Syed, the executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations in Dallas Fort-Worth Texas, told The Associated Press that Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved. Syed said CAIR’s support and prayers were with the people being held in the temple.

Texas resident Victoria Francis told the AP that she watched about an hour of the livestream before it cut out. She said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb.

“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that,” she said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”

Francis, who grew up near Colleyville, tuned in after she read about the hostage situation. She said it sounded like the man was talking to the police department on the phone, with the rabbi and another person trying to help with the negotiations.

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The temple is nestled among large houses in a leafy residential neighborhood that includes several churches, a middle and elementary school and a horse farm.

Congregation Beth Israel is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi.

Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said the congregation has about 140 members and Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community. She described Saturday’s events as “surreal.”

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation,” Eisen said as the hostage situation was ongoing. “No matter how it turns out it’s hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be.”

Elected officials and police departments around the country said that despite no specific threats, they would be increasing patrols at synagogues.

Flatbush Shomrim members bring hot coffee to NYPD officers patrolling near shuls on a frigid Saturday night. (Flatbush Shomrim)

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