Police say one hostage has been released uninjured from a Texas synagogue where a man had been holding four people.
The Colleyville Police Department said the man was released shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday. He was expected to be reunited with his family soon and did not require medical attention.
FBI crisis negotiators were continuing to communicate with the man who took the hostages, police said.
Earlier, authorities said a man took the hostages Saturday and could be heard in the livestreamed services demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.
The Colleyville Police Department tweeted Saturday afternoon that it was conducting SWAT operations at the address of Congregation Beth Israel, northeast of Fort Worth.
Initially at least four hostages were believed to be inside the synagogue, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The synagogue’s rabbi was believed to be among the hostages, one of the officials said.
Authorities are still trying to discern a motive for the attack. The hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida. She was convicted of trying to kill U.S. military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, 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.
John Floyd, of the Houston, Texas, chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and long-time legal counsel for the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, said his client is not responsible for the incident:
“We strongly condemn the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. This antisemitic attack against a house of worship is unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly free the hostages and bring them to safety. We want to make it very well known that the hostage-taker is NOT Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s brother … We want the hostage-taker to know that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her family strongly condemn this act and do not stand by you. Dr. Aafia’s family has always stood firm in advocating for the release of their sister from incarceration by legal and non-violent means only.
Investigators have not positively identified the man, officials said.
Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after that, FBI Dallas spokesperson Katie Chaumont said. There have been no reported injuries, she added. She did not say whether the hostage-taker was armed.
The 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 talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2 p.m., 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 synagogue.
Texas resident Victoria Francis told the AP that she watched about an hour of the livestream before it cut out.
“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats,” she said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Francis, who lives in Rhome, Texas, and grew up near Colleyville, tuned in after she read about the hostage situation.
“It’s a scary situation. I’m hopeful it ends the best way it can, obviously with no one hurt,” she said. “Especially in this area, you never think something like this is going to hit home until it does.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 23 kilometers northeast of Fort Worth.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday evening that President Joe Biden had been briefed and was receiving updates from senior officials.
Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist with advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 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, Pakistan 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.