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Man holding people in Colleyville, Texas, synagogue dead; hostages released safely

The hostage-taker told authorities he wanted the release of Aafia Siddiqui, convicted in 2010 of attempted murder of U.S. soldiers, from federal prison.
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DALLAS — All hostages have been released safely from a synagogue in the Dallas-Fort Worth area following a more than 10-hour standoff, and the man responsible is dead, according to local and federal law enforcement officials.

A group of four people, including the rabbi, were taken hostage at about 10:41 a.m. Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in the city of Colleyville, about 30 miles northwest of Dallas.

The hostages were being held by a man demanding the release of a federal prisoner being held in North Texas who was convicted in 2010 of attempted murder in a terrorism-related case, officials said.

One of the hostages was released shortly after 5 p.m. and FBI crisis negotiators continued to communicate with the man in the synagogue Saturday night.

Around 9 p.m., the FBI's hostage rescue team breached the synagogue and rescued the hostages, Colleyville Police Chief Michael C. Miller said.

Miller said the suspect, whose identity has not been released, is dead. Officials did not release details on how the man died.

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in a statement Sunday: “We are aware of the death of a British man in Texas and are in contact with the local authorities.” He did not say whether he was referring to the suspect.

The hostages, all of whom were adults, were not physically harmed and did not require medical attention, officials said.

“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet.

Matthew DeSarno, FBI Dallas special agent in charge, said the hostage-taker was thought to have been "singularly focused on one issue and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community."

He did not provide additional details but said no information indicated an ongoing threat and that an investigation with "global reach" will be conducted.

Image: Aafia Siddiqui
Aafia Siddiqui was found guilty in 2010 of two counts of attempted murder for trying to kill Americans while she was detained in Afghanistan. FBI via AP file

Three senior law enforcement officials briefed on the situation said the man told authorities he wanted the release of Aafia Siddiqui from federal prison. They also said the hostage-taker had the rabbi in Colleyville call a rabbi in New York City to say he was being held hostage and that the man wanted his “sister” Siddiqui freed.

Siddiqui, 49, was convicted by a federal jury in 2010 of attempting to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan and is currently being held at FMC Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth.

New York City Police Department counterterrorism teams were seen Saturday at the synagogue connected to the New York rabbi who received the call.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has advocated for Siddiqui’s release and claimed she is innocent, said Siddiqui’s brother was not the hostage-taker in the synagogue.

John Floyd, board chair of CAIR Houston and longtime legal counsel for Siddiqui’s brother, said in a statement that his client is not responsible for the situation, is not near Dallas-Fort Worth and that the hostage-taker has nothing to do with Siddiqui.

“We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” Floyd said in a statement.

In a statement, CAIR’s national deputy director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell, said the group strongly condemned the situation, which he described as “an unacceptable act of evil.”

It was unclear how many people were in the synagogue when police received the first disturbance call Saturday morning.

On a Facebook livestream of the congregation’s Shabbat morning service, a man could be heard speaking, at times cursing and sounding angry.

The video, which has been taken down, did not show what was going on inside the building.

Miller, the Colleyville police chief, said officials began receiving reports that a “gunman” had entered the synagogue and had taken four hostages. Local authorities responded and evacuated nearby homes.

DeSarno, the FBI special agent in charge, said hostage negotiators had contact for long periods of time with the man, and credited their work, as well as that of the nearly 200 state, federal and local law enforcement officers, with the resolution.

Law enforcement agencies, including several North Texas police departments, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI’s Dallas field office as well as the agency’s hostage rescue team based in Quantico, Virginia, descended on Colleyville as the situation unfolded.

Miller said Saturday night that the rabbi of the congregation is a close friend and that the situation was very personal. He added that he saw hope in how the community came together during the crisis.

Numerous government officials — including President Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland; Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel; and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — and faith-based groups said they were monitoring the situation and offered their hopes toward a peaceful resolution.

Late Saturday night, Biden thanked those who worked to bring the four hostages home to their families.

"There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage-taker," Biden said. "But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud."

Congregation Beth Israel, affiliated with Judaism's Reform movement, began in 1998 as a chavurah, or a small group of Jewish people, who gather for prayer services, according to its website. The group officially established a synagogue in Colleyville in July 1999, and began services at its current location in 2005.

Tom Winter and Jonathan Dienst reported from New York, Claire Cardona from Dallas and Dennis Romero from San Diego.