Tuesday, March 28

Texas Synagogue Showdown: Hostages Safe, Captor Dead

Four hostages are safe and their captor is dead after an hour-long standoff that began when the man took over services at a Texas synagogue where he could be heard ranting on a live stream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of attempting to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan.

A hostage being held at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville was released during the standoff. The other three were released Saturday night when an FBI SWAT team entered the building, authorities said.

The kidnapper was killed and FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno said a team would investigate “the shooting incident.”

DeSarno said there was no immediate indication the man was part of a larger plan, adding that the agency’s investigation “will be global in scope.”

It was not clear why the attacker chose the synagogue.

Law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity earlier said the kidnapper demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of links to al-Qaeda.

He also said he wanted to be able to talk to her, according to officials. Siddiqui is in a federal prison in Texas.

A New York City rabbi received a call from the rabbi believed to be being held hostage at the synagogue to demand Siddiqui’s release, a law enforcement official said. The New York rabbi called 911.

Police were first called to the synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after, FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said.

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Saturday services were streamed live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time. Local newspaper The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could sometimes be heard ranting and talking about religion during the live broadcast, which did not show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Several people heard the kidnapper refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the live feed. John Floyd, chairman of the board of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’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 perpetrator to know that his actions are evil and directly undermine those of us seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” said Floyd, who is also legal counsel for Mohammad Siddiqui.

“We have confirmed that the family member wrongly accused of this heinous act is nowhere near the DFW metropolitan area.”

Victoria Francis, a Texas resident, told the AP that she watched about an hour of the live broadcast before it was cut off. She said she heard the man rail against the United States and claim he had a bomb.

“The more he got irritated, the more threats he made,” he said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”

A spokesperson for the Meta company confirmed that Facebook has removed the video in the meantime.

Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is located about 14 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a wooded residential neighborhood that includes several churches, a middle and elementary school, and a horse farm.

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The Beth Israel congregation is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi.

President Joe Biden released a statement thanking police after the hostage situation ended.

“There are more things that we will learn in the coming days about the motivations of the kidnapper. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate: We will oppose anti-Semitism and the rise of extremism in this country,” Biden said.

The standoff had prompted heightened security elsewhere, including in New York City, where police said they had increased their presence “at key Jewish institutions” out of an abundance of caution.

Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before being sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges of assaulting and shooting US Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years before.

The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and their supporters, who saw her as a victim of the US criminal justice system.

In the years since then, Pakistani officials have expressed interest in any sort of deal or swap that could result in his release from US custody, and his case has continued to attract the attention of supporters.

In 2018, for example, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attack the prison where Siddiqui is being held in an attempt to free her, was sentenced to 22 years in prison.


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