Hostages Safe After Texas Standoff 01/16 10:13
Four hostages were spared and their captor was killed, ending a 10-hour
standoff at a Texas synagogue where the hostage-taker -- a British national --
could be heard ranting on a livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani
neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in
COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) -- Four hostages were spared and their captor was
killed, ending a 10-hour standoff at a Texas synagogue where the hostage-taker
-- a British national -- could be heard ranting on a livestream and demanding
the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill
U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.
One hostage was released during the Saturday standoff at Congregation Beth
Israel in Colleyville and the three others got out at around 9 p.m. when an FBI
SWAT team entered the building, authorities said. The hostage-taker was killed,
and FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said a team would investigate "the
shooting incident." But FBI and police spokeswomen declined to answer questions
about who shot the man.
Video from Dallas TV station WFAA showed people running out a door of the
synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds
later before he turned around and closed it. Moments later, several rounds of
gunfire could be heard, followed by the sound of an explosion.
DeSarno said the hostage-taker was specifically focused on an issue not
directly connected to the Jewish community, and there was no immediate
indication that the man was part of any broader plan. But DeSarno said the
agency's investigation "will have global reach."
It wasn't clear why the attacker chose the synagogue.
Law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing
investigation and who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of
anonymity earlier said the hostage-taker demanded the release of Aafia
Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida who
is in a federal prison in Texas. He also said he wanted to be able to speak
with her, according to the officials, one of whom confirmed that the
hostage-taker was a British national.
DeSarno said Saturday night that the man had been identified "but we are not
prepared to release his identity or confirm his identity at this time."
A rabbi in New York City received a call from the rabbi believed to be held
hostage in the synagogue to demand Siddiqui's release, a law enforcement
official said. The New York rabbi then called 911.
Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were
evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after that, FBI Dallas
spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said.
Saturday's services were being livestreamed on the synagogue'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 spokesperson for Meta
Platforms Inc., the corporate successor to Facebook Inc., later confirmed that
Facebook had removed the video.
Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his "sister" on
the livestream. But John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, -- the nation's largest Muslim advocacy
group -- said Siddiqui's brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.
"This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global
campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia. We want the assailant to know that his
actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice
for Dr. Aafia," said Floyd, who also is legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.
"We have confirmed that the family member being wrongly accused of this heinous
act is not near the DFW Metro area."
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
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23
kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue 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. He has worked to
bring a sense of spirituality, compassion and learning to the community,
according to his biography on the temple's website, and he loves welcoming
everyone, including LGBT people, into the congregation.
In a Sunday morning post on what appears to be Cytron-Walker's Facebook
page, the rabbi thanked law enforcement and first-responders, and security
training "that helped save us."
"I am grateful for my family. I am grateful for the CBI Community, the
Jewish Community, the Human Community. I am grateful we made it out. I am
grateful to be alive," he wrote.
Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said the
congregation has about 140 members and that Cytron-Walker has worked hard to
build interfaith relationships in the community, including doing pulpit swaps
and participating in a community peace walk. She described Saturday's events as
"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."
President Joe Biden issued a statement thanking law enforcement after the
hostage situation ended.
"There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the
hostage taker. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate--we
will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this
country," Biden said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that he had been
monitoring the situation closely. "This event is a stark reminder that
antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide," he
wrote. He said he was "relieved and thankful" that the hostages were rescued.
The standoff prompted increased security in other places, including New York
City, where police said that they increased their presence "at key Jewish
institutions" out of an abundance of caution.
Aafia Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced in 2010 to 86
years in prison on charges that she assaulted and shot at U.S. Army officers
after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. The punishment sparked
outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her
as victimized by the American criminal justice system.
In the years since, Pakistani officials have expressed interest publicly in
any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from U.S. custody,
and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters. In 2018, for
instance, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attack
the prison where Siddiqui is being held in an attempt to free her was sentenced
to 22 years in prison.