Four hostages are safe and their captor is dead after an hours-long standoff that began when the man took over services at a Texas synagogue where he 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 held Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville was released during the standoff; three others got out about 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.”
Video from Dallas TV station WFAA shows people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later, before he turns around and closes the door. Moments later, several rounds of gunfire can be heard, followed by the sound of an explosion.
FBI and police spokeswomen declined to answer questions about who shot the man.
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 spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity earlier said that the hostage-taker demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida. He also said he wanted to be able to speak with her, according to the officials. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
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 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 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 the negotiations.