Four hostages held at a Texas synagogue were released safely on Saturday after more than 10 hours, Governor Greg Abbott announced, ending a tense standoff with police that put U.S. Jewish communities on high-alert.
An FBI hostage rescue team breached the Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday night, rescuing the three remaining hostages, after one hostage was released during the negotiations., the security service confirmed.
The FBI and local police said that the captor was killed, but according to local media it remains unclear whether he was shot by security forces or killed himself.
The hostages are all unharmed following the operation by the elite rescue team hailed from Virginia, which was joined by 60-70 more people arriving from Washington, according to CNN.
U.S. President Joe Biden thanked the “courageous work” of U.S. law enforcement agencies.
“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. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud,” Biden added.
Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter he was "relieved and thankful" the hostages had been rescued, adding: "This event is a stark reminder that antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide."
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The suspect, identified by some U.S. media outlets as Muhammad Siddiqui, entered the Reform synagogue shortly before 11 A.M., during the Sabbath service, and took the rabbi and three worshipers hostage. The U.K. government later confirmed that the assailant was a British citizen.
The Sabbath service was being livestreamed on Facebook and Zoom, but was taken down soon after the crisis began.
The man was reportedly holding the congregants in a bid to secure the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving a prison sentence until 2083 for attempted murder charges. The FBI has refused to confirm the identity of the captor or his motive.
Siddiqui is currently held at the Federal Medical Centre in Carswell, Texas, which houses female prisoners with mental health issues. Her release date is 2083.
Dubbed the "Lady Al-Qaida," Aafia Siddiqui, 42, is a Pakistan-born, U.S.-educated neuroscientist who was sentenced to 86 years in a U.S. prison in 2010 for shooting at Americans who were questioning her in Afghanistan.
Citing synagogue congregants tuned into the livestream from home, CNN reported that the suspect oscillated between making antisemitic remarks and apologizing to the hostages and emphasizing he is not a criminal.
During the livestream, he repeatedly mentioned Islam, used profanities and claimed to have explosives. The man also repeatedly said he believed he was going to die, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Congregation Beth Israel is a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, minutes outside Fort Worth. The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area holds one of Texas' largest and oldest Jewish communities, dating back to the 19th century.
The synagogue advertises its embrace of interfaith inclusion while placing a premium on social justice values. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the synagogue's first full-time rabbi and one of the reported hostages, has been at the synagogue since 2006. He has embraced progressive causes in the congregation's spirit such as welcoming interfaith families, LGBT individuals and people interested in finding a spiritual home in Judaism, while also organizing interfaith gatherings.
At the start of the crisis, FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said a SWAT team had reached the scene and was communicating with the captor, but declined to say whether he was armed and what he said to the authorities, citing operational sensitivity.
The Colleyville police on Twitter earlier on Saturday said it was conducting SWAT operations by the synagogue, adding that all residents in the immediate area were being evacuated.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced that the city is deploying police patrols to synagogues in the Dallas area as a precaution, adding that they are working closely with the Jewish Federation.
Before the situation was resolved, Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he is "pray[ing] for the safety of the hostages and rescuers,” while Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid noted that he is in contact with the country's Consul General to the Southwest, Livia Link, to monitor developments.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, also said he was “closely monitoring” the reports and that he is “praying for an immediate and safe end” to the incident.
Ben Samuels and Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.