Colleyville, Texas (AP) –
Authorities said a man took hostages during service at a synagogue in Texas on Saturday, where the suspect was heard ranting on a livestream before the feed was cut off.
The Colleyville Police Department tweeted Saturday afternoon that it was conducting SWAT operations at the Beth Israel community address northeast of Fort Worth.
At least four hostages were believed to be inside the synagogue, according to two police officers who were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The rabbi of the synagogue was said to be among the hostages, one of the officials said.
Authorities are still trying to determine a precise motive for the attack. The kidnapper was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having links to al-Qaeda who was convicted of attempting to kill US military officers while she was in Afghanistan, one of the law enforcement officials said. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
Officials said investigators had not positively identified the man and cautioned that the information was based on a preliminary investigation as the situation was still rapidly evolving.
FBI Dallas spokeswoman Katie Chaumont said an FBI SWAT team was also at the scene and crisis negotiators communicated with someone at the synagogue. However, she could not say whether the person was armed and she declined to describe what the person had told 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, Chaumont said.
No injuries were reported, Chaumont said.
“It’s an evolving situation and we have a lot of law enforcement officers on the ground,” Chaumont said.
Police blocked access to the streets around the synagogue on Saturday afternoon.
The services were streamed live on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a while. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man was sometimes heard ranting and talking about religion during the live stream, which didn’t show what was happening in the synagogue.
Just before 2 p.m. the man said, “You have to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead.” Moments later, the feed cut off.
The man who used profanity repeatedly mentioned his sister Islam and that he thought he was dying, Star-Telegram reported.
Texas resident Victoria Francis told The Associated Press that she watched the live stream for about an hour before it was cut off. She said she heard the man rail against America, claiming he had a bomb.
“He was just all over the map. He was quite irritated and the more irritated he got the more threats he made like ‘I’m the guy with the bomb. If you make a mistake, it’s all up to you.” And he would laugh about it,” she said. “He was clearly in extreme distress.”
Francis, who lives in Rhome, Texas and grew up near Colleyville, spoke up after reading on Facebook that there had been a hostage situation at the synagogue. She said it sounded like the man was on the phone with the police while the rabbi and another person were trying to help with the negotiations.
When the live stream ended, the man got quite angry, Francis said.
“It’s a scary situation. I’m confident it will end as well as it can, obviously without anyone getting hurt,” she said. “Especially in this area, you never think something like this is going to take off until it does.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 14 miles northeast of Fort Worth.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday night that President Joe Biden had been briefed and was receiving updates from senior officials.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was closely monitoring the situation. “We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers,” he wrote on Twitter.
Israel’s Consul-General in Houston is on his way to the scene of the incident, Secretary of State Yair Lapid said in a statement, adding that Israeli officials “are in close contact with American law enforcement.”
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo in Washington, DC; and Issac Scharf in Jerusalem contributed to this report.