Hostages who had been held for hours inside a Texas synagogue have been rescued, Governor Greg Abbott said, ending a standoff that had lasted nearly 12 hours.
“Prayers answered. All hostages got out safe and sound,” Abbott tweeted on Saturday night.
Abbott’s tweet came shortly after a loud bang and what sounded like gunshots were heard coming from the synagogue, where authorities said a man held people captive as he demanded the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of attempting to kill US army officers in Afghanistan.
The hostage taker was later pronounced dead, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Details of the man’s rescue or death were not immediately released.
At least four hostages were initially believed to have been inside the synagogue, according to three law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke to the AP under cover of anonymity.
The synagogue’s rabbi is believed to be among the hostages, one of the officials said. One of the officials said the man claimed to be armed but authorities had not confirmed whether he was.
The Colleyville Police Department said a hostage was released unharmed shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday. The man needed to be reunited with his family and did not need medical attention. A law enforcement official said the first hostage freed was not the rabbi.
Authorities are still trying to discern the 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-Qaeda, officials said.
He also said he wished he could speak to her, according to officials. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
Officials said investigators had not identified the man with certainty and warned the information was based on a preliminary investigation.
A New York rabbi received a call from the rabbi who would be held hostage in the synagogue demanding 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, Dallas FBI spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said.
Services were streamed live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for some time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the live broadcast, which did not show what was going on inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the power was cut off. A Meta company spokesperson later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video.
Several people heard the hostage taker call Siddiqui his “sister” on the livestream, but Faizan Syed, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Dallas Fort-Worth Texas, told The Associated Press that the brother of Siddiqui, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.
Syed said CAIR’s support and prayers were with those held in the synagogue.
Texas resident Victoria Francis told the AP she watched about an hour of the live broadcast before it was interrupted. She said she heard the man fuming at America and claiming he had a bomb.
“He was just all over the map. He was quite irritated and the more irritated he was, he made more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, it’s all up to you.” And he would laugh about it,” she said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted late Saturday that President Joe Biden had been briefed and was receiving updates from senior officials.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was monitoring the situation closely. “We pray for the safety of hostages and rescuers,” he wrote on Twitter.
CAIR, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group, condemned the attack on Saturday afternoon.
Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before being sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison for assaulting and shooting US Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan for two years earlier.
The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who saw her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.
In the years that followed, Pakistani officials publicly expressed interest in any sort of deal or exchange that might result in his release from U.S. custody, and his case continued to attract the attention of his supporters.
In 2018, for example, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attack the prison where Siddiqui is being held in an effort to free her, was sentenced to 22 years in prison. jail.
Australian Associated Press