DEVELOPING STORYDEVELOPING STORY,
Officials tell AP the hostage-taker is demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.
Authorities in the United States say a man has taken hostages at a Texas synagogue, where he was heard in a livestream demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Colleyville Police Department said it deployed SWAT teams to Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday and evacuated residents from the area.
It said one male hostage was released uninjured more than six hours after the crisis began.
Earlier on Saturday, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press news agency that at least four hostages were believed to be inside the synagogue. They spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation.
One of the officials said the synagogue’s rabbi was believed to be among the hostages.
— Colleyville Police (@ColleyvillePD) January 15, 2022
Authorities are still trying to discern a precise motive for the attack.
The officials said the hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges that she assaulted and shot at US military officers after being detained in Afghanistan.
The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as victimised by the American criminal justice system. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
The officials told AP that the hostage-taker said he wanted to be able to speak with Siddiqui.
They said investigators have not identified the man and cautioned that the information was based on a preliminary investigation as the situation was still rapidly developing.
ABC News, citing an official briefed on the matter, said the hostage-taker is claiming to be Siddiqui’s brother. But the official also said authorities are yet to confirm his identity.
Katie Chaumont, spokeswoman for FBI Dallas, said an FBI SWAT team was at the scene and that crisis negotiators had been communicating 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, citing operational sensitivity.
Chaumont said police were first called to the synagogue at about 11am local time (17:00 GMT) and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighbourhood soon after that.
There have been no reported injuries.
“It’s an evolving situation, and we have a lot of law enforcement personnel on scene,” Chaumont said.
The synagogue’s services were being livestreamed on its 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 did not show what was happening inside the synagogue.
The man could be heard repeatedly saying he did not want to see anyone hurt and that he believed he was going to die, the newspaper said.
Barry Klompus, a member of the congregation since it opened in 1999, told Reuters that he tuned into the livestream.
“It was horrible listening and watching, and it’s that much more horrible not knowing,” Klompus said in a telephone interview.
Though he was not able to clearly understand what the man wanted, Klompus believes the man wanted to talk to his sister.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday evening that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the “developing hostage situation” 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 the hostages and rescuers,” he wrote on Twitter.
The president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said on Twitter the union was “very grateful to law enforcement who are working to free the hostages”.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, said it was aware of the standoff, and CAIR, a US Muslim advocacy group, condemned the man’s actions.
“This latest antisemitic attack on Jewish Americans worshipping at a synagogue is an act of pure evil,” CAIR said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly and safely free the hostages. No cause can justify or excuse this crime.”