Texas synagogue siege: hostages safe and gunman dead after 10-hour standoff
All four hostages at a Texas synagogue have been released unharmed and the captor pronounced dead more than 10 hours after he disrupted a religious service and began a tense stand-off with police.
The gunman had initially taken four people, including the rabbi, hostage at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. One hostage was released unharmed six hours later.
Members of the FBI’s hostage rescue team stormed the synagogue to free the three remaining hostages. The gunman was pronounced dead, the Colleyville police chief, Michael Miller, said at a news conference.
Local reporters said they heard the sound of explosions, possibly flashbangs, and the sound of gunfire shortly before the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, announced the crisis was over.
“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Abbott said on Twitter. The FBI said they have confirmed the identity of the gunman but said they would not yet disclose it. The FBI declined to confirm the cause of his death, saying it was still under investigation.
It was not clear how the suspect might have armed himself.
The police department said it first responded to the synagogue with Swat teams in response to emergency calls beginning at about 10.41am and police arrived at about 12.30pm. FBI negotiators soon opened contact with the man, who said he wanted to speak to a woman held in a federal prison.
The incident took place during an online livestream of the Shabbat service at the synagogue. The livestream cut off at about 2pm local time.
In the livestream the hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, who was convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, one of the law enforcement officials said. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
Before the livestream was ended, a man could be heard ranting and talking about religion and his sister, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The man could be heard repeatedly saying he didn’t want to see anyone hurt and that he believed he was going to die, the newspaper said.
Barry Klompus, 63, a member of the congregation since it opened in 1999, said he had been alerted to the situation by another member and quickly turned to the live feed until it was cut off. “It was horrible listening and watching, and it’s that much more horrible not knowing,” Klompus told Reuters.
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.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, condemned the attack on Saturday afternoon.
“This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil,” the CAIR national deputy director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community.”
The FBI said the gunman was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community. FBI special agent in charge Matt DeSarno told the Associated Press there was no immediate indication that the man had connections to any broader plan but that the agency’s investigation “will have global reach”.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Joe Biden had been briefed, while the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said he was monitoring the situation closely.
Congregation Beth Israel began in 1998 as a chavurah, or a small group of Jewish people who gather for prayer services, its website states. This group established a synagogue in Colleyville in 1999 and moved to its current location in 2005.
Colleyville is a city of about 23,000 people, located a short distance from the Dallas-Fort Worth international airport.