The FBI said Saturday night that all four hostages who had been held at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville , TX, are safe and unharmed.
One hostage was released during the standoff; three more were subsequently freed after a SWAT team entered the building. The hostage taker is dead. The standoff lasted 11 hours.
Police in Colleyville, Texas announced that one hostage has been released, uninjured, from Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform Jewish synagogue where a rabbi and two worshipers are still being held captive by a Pakistani Muslim gunman.
Members of an FBI Hostage Rescue team and Colleyville police personnel continued negotiations for hours with the gunman who entered the synagogue during Shabbat services and took the rabbi and three other people hostage.
“Shortly after 5 pm a male hostage was released uninjured,” Colleyville Police Department said in a statement to media. “This man will be reunited with his family as soon as possible and he does not require medical attention. FBI Crisis Negotiators continue contact with the subject. . .Law enforcement has confirmed there are others inside but no injuries have been reported.”
The captives were attending Sabbath services and a bar mitzvah ceremony that was being streamed on Facebook Live when they were attacked. The broadcast ended abruptly a short time later.
The synagogue is located about half an hour from Dallas and about 17 miles northeast of downtown Fort Worth.
Colleyville is just northwest of Dallas; the Congregation is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. pic.twitter.com/joptfky81D
— StopAntisemitism.org (@StopAntisemites) January 15, 2022
A Muslim gunman, first identified by ABC News reporter Aaron Katersky as Muhammad Siddiqui, entered Congregation Beth Israel synagogue during Sabbath services that began at 10 am, taking at least four worshipers hostage, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, according to a law enforcement official quoted by CNN. Cytron-Walker has served as the congregation’s spiritual leader since 2006.
Rabbi a ‘Personal Friend’ of Muslim Community
The rabbi was described as “personal friend” by Jawaid Alam, president of the Islamic Center of Southlake, who added that the rabbi was also a friend of the Muslim community who has promoted peace and cooperation across faiths.
“He is a peace-loving person, a rabbi and Jewish leader, but a true friend of the Muslim community,” Alam told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “He and his family are considered part of the Muslim community, and he considers us part of the Jewish community,” he said, calling it “unthinkable” that such a situation could happen at the synagogue of “a peace-loving rabbi who has promoted interfaith talks.”
Alam added that the rabbi “taught us how to live with people different from you and love each other.”
Gunman Claimed Sister is Incarcerated
After several hours, the attacker’s alleged identity was shared on social media, and on mainstream news outlets.
— Emily Schrader – אמילי שריידר (@emilykschrader) January 15, 2022
The identity of the gunman was reiterated by multiple news outlets, including Arabic-language Al Hadath, which tweeted an alleged photo of the suspect.
— ا لـ حـ ـد ث (@AlHadath) January 15, 2022
The gunman was reported to be angry that his “sister” is in prison and he is not allowed to meet with her. He also claimed there are bombs planted around the area.
Gunman Not a Biological ‘Brother’
Officials were told there is no blood relationship between the two, with some community members saying the gunman may be referring to a “spiritual” sister rather than a blood relationship.
That contention proved accurate as an attorney for the biological brother of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of trying to kill US service members, told ABC News investigative journalist Aaron Katersky the gunman is not related to her by blood. He added that his client is in Houston, and that he relayed that information to law enforcement.
An attorney who represents the actual brother of Aafia Siddiqui told ABC News his client has been fielding calls from law enforcement and assuring them he is not involved in the hostage taking and has been trying to free his sister through peaceful means
— Aaron Katersky (@AaronKatersky) January 15, 2022
The attacker claimed Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, is his sister and demanded her release from prison. A Sunni Muslim educated in the United States, Aafi Siddiqui is also known as “Lady Al Qaeda”.
Arrested in 2008 while carrying handwritten plans for a radioactive “dirty bomb” along with a list of New York landmarks, she was convicted on two counts of attempted murder, as well as on charges of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of US officers.
She is currently serving an 86-year prison sentence in a prison at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth following her 2010 conviction in New York City for assaulting and trying to kill US military personnel during an interrogation.
She also hates Israel: when her verdict was read in court, Aafi Siddiqui reportedly turned to the gallery, pointed her finger in the air and said, “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America, and that is where the anger belongs. I can testify to this and I have proof.”
She is strongly supported by CAIR and Linda Sarsour, who have actively and repeatedly campaigned for her release.
All Eyes on Colleyville
The White House is “closely monitoring” the situation, said press secretary Jan Psaki, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was also briefed on events.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he was monitoring the situation through the state’s Department of Public Safety. ”The State of Texas is ready to provide additional assistance as requested and we will continue to monitor the situation,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter. I ask Texans to join Cecilia and me as we pray for the safety of the congregants.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a tweeted statement that he is “closely monitoring the hostage situation taking place in Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers.”
Israeli Foreign Minister and alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a tweeted statement, “Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters being held at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas.”
Former US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro added in his own tweeted statement, “May the One who blessed our ancestors bless and keep our brothers and sisters in jeopardy in Colleyville, TX, have mercy on them, deliver them from danger, and protect all those working to bring them to safety.”
Preventing Copycat Attacks
At least two major city police departments began ramping up their protection around local synagogues and places of worship following the Colleyville attack.
Officials in Dallas, Texas and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania both increased patrols around Jewish sites.
Anger, Islam and Death Wish
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “An angry man could be heard ranting on the livestream, at times talking about religion. . .The man has repeatedly mentioned his sister and Islam and used profanities. At one point, another voice can be heard apparently talking on the phone to police. The man has said a few times he didn’t want anyone hurt, and he has mentioned his children. He also said repeatedly he believes he is going to die.”
At the scene in Colleyville where a local synagogue is being held hostage. The Congregation Beth Israel, located at 6100 Pleasant Run Rd., was in the middle of a service when a gunman entered. A livestream of the service remains ongoing during the situation. pic.twitter.com/dC5d6HKTLQ
— Jessika Harkay (@JessikaHarkay) January 15, 2022
Colleyville Police SWAT teams, Texas State Troopers, Department of Public Safety personnel, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team and ATF personnel have remained at the scene.
Negotiators’ Efforts Continue
“Negotiators have contact with this person and are working to come to a safe resolution,” Colleyville Police Sgt. Dara Nelson told reporters.
“We are currently conducting SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd.,” Colleyville Police wrote in a tweet initially. “All residents in the immediate area are being evacuated. Please avoid the area.”
Colleyville PD continued to update the public with hourly tweets, with the latest one at 5 pm local time saying, “The situation at the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Road posted about earlier remains ongoing. We ask that you continue to avoid the area. We will continue to provide updates via social media.”
This is not the first terrorist attack on an American Jewish synagogue: there were deadly attacks in 2018 on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and in 2019 at the Poway Chabad synagogue in Poway, CA. Both ended with death and injuries to Jewish worshipers.