Ranting man takes hostages in Texas synagogue

COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) – Authorities say a man took hostages Saturday during services at a Texas synagogue where the suspect could be heard arguing in a livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of attempting to kill American army officers in Afghanistan.

Colleyville Police Department tweeted Saturday afternoon that it conducted SWAT operations at the address of the Congregation Beth Israel, northeast of Fort Worth.

At least four hostages are 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 condition of anonymity. The synagogue’s rabbis are believed to be among the hostages, one of the officials said.

Authorities are still trying to find out the exact motive for the attack. The hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al-Qaeda, who was convicted of attempting to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, officials said. He also said he wanted to be able to talk to her, according to officials. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.

Officials said investigators did not positively identify the man and warned that the information was based on a preliminary investigation as the situation was still developing rapidly.

FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said an FBI SWAT team was also on the scene and that crisis negotiators had communicated with someone inside the synagogue. But she could not say whether the person was armed, and she declined to describe what the person had said to authorities with reference to surgical sensitivity.

Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood shortly after, Chaumont said.

No injuries have been reported, Chaumont said.

“It’s a situation under development and we have a lot of cops on the scene,” Chaumont said.

The services were livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a while. That Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could at times be heard rumbling and talking about religion during the livestream, which did not show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2 pm, the man said: “You have to do something. I do not want to see this guy dead. “Moments later, the feed fell out.

The man, who used swear words, repeatedly mentioned his sister, Islam, and that he thought he was going to die, Star-Telegram reported.

Texas resident Victoria Francis told the Associated Press that she watched about an hour of the livestream before it was stopped. She said she heard the man speak out against America, claiming he had a bomb.

“He was just all over the map. He was pretty annoyed, and the more annoyed he got, he would make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, it’s entirely up to you.’ And he would laugh at that, “she said.” He was obviously in extreme need. “

Francis, who lives in Rhome, Texas and grew up near Colleyville, tuned in after reading about the hostage situation. She said it sounded as if the man was talking to the police department on the phone, where the rabbi and another person were trying to help with the negotiations.

When the livestream shut out, the man was getting pretty angry, Francis said.

“It’s a scary situation. I hope it ends in the best way it can, of course without anyone getting 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 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday night that President Joe Biden had been briefed and received updates from senior officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was monitoring the situation closely. “We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Israeli Consul General in Houston is on his way to the scene of the incident, Secretary of State Yair Lapid said in a statement, adding that Israeli officials “are in close contact with U.S. law enforcement agencies.”

Siddiqui, a Pakistani graduate neuroscientist from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges of assaulting and shooting 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 saw her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.

In recent years, Pakistani officials have expressed public interest in any deal or barter that could result in her release from U.S. custody, and her case has continued to attract the attention of supporters. In 2018, for example, a man from Ohio, as prosecutors say, was planning to fly to Texas and attack the jail where Siddiqui is being held in an attempt to free her. sentenced to 22 years in prison.

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