US-CRIME-RELIGION-JUDAISM

Man takes hostages at Texas synagogue

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — Authorities said a man took hostages Saturday during services at a Texas synagogue where the suspect could be heard ranting in a livestream before the feed cut out.

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

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

Authorities are still trying to discern a precise motive for the attack. The hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda, who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, one of the law enforcement officials said. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.

The officials said investigators have not positively identified the man and cautioned that the information was based on a preliminary investigation as the situation was still rapidly developing.

FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said an FBI SWAT team was also 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.

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

There have been no reported injuries, Chaumont said.

“It’s an evolving situation, and we have a lot of law enforcement personnel on scene,” Chaumont said.

Law enforcement shut down access to the roads surrounding the synagogue Saturday afternoon.

The services were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s 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 didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.

Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, “You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut out.

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

Texas resident Victoria Francis told The Associated Press that she watched about an hour of the livestream before it cut out. She said she heard the man rant against America and claim he had a bomb.

“He was just all over the map. He was pretty irritated and the more irritated he got, he’d make more threats, like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, this is all on you.’ And he’d laugh at that,” she said. “He was clearly in extremely distress.”

Francis, who lives in Rhome, Texas and grew up near Colleyville, tuned in after she read on Facebook that there was a hostage situation at the synagogue. She said it sounded like the man was talking to the police department on the phone, with the rabbi and another person trying to help with the negotiations.

When the livestream cut out, the man was getting pretty irate, Francis said.

“It’s a scary situation. I’m hopeful it ends the best way it can, obviously with no one 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 evening that President Joe Biden had been briefed 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.

Israel’s consul general in Houston is on her way to the scene of the incident, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement, adding that Israeli officials “are in close contact with American law enforcement agencies.”