By Andy Jacobsohn
AFP, January 16, 2022 — Hostage negotiators were locked in a tense standoff Saturday at a Texas synagogue where a man apparently demanding the release of a convicted terrorist had taken several captives, police and media said.
Over eight hours into the crisis, police in Colleyville, Texas said one of the hostages had been released around 5:00 pm (2300 GMT) “uninjured” but an unconfirmed number of captives remained in the synagogue.
“This man will be reunited with his family as soon as possible and he does not require medical attention,” a police statement said.
With details still unclear, but reports emerging the synagogue’s rabbi and at least two others were being held, the standoff sparked an outpouring of concern from Jewish organizations around the United States, as well as from the Israeli government.
Police said they were alerted to an emergency Saturday morning at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas, with reports circulating quickly that it was a hostage situation.
ABC News reported that the hostage-taker was armed and had claimed to have bombs in unknown locations.
Quoting a US official briefed on the matter, ABC reported the man was demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who has been dubbed “Lady Qaeda” by US tabloids.
ABC initially said the man claimed to be Siddiqui’s brother, but then later clarified her brother is in Houston, citing the brother’s lawyer.
Other experts said the word the man used in Arabic was more figurative and meant “sister” in the Islamic faith.
Siddiqui, a former Pakistani scientist, was in 2010 sentenced by a New York court to 86 years in prison for attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan. The high-profile case sparked outrage in Pakistan.
She is currently being held at Federal Medical Center (FMC) prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
A live stream of the congregation’s Shabbat morning service on Facebook appeared to capture audio of a man talking loudly — although it did not show the scene inside the building.
In it, he could be heard saying, “You get my sister on the phone,” and “I am gonna die.”
He was also heard saying: “There’s something wrong with America.”
The stream began at 10:00 am (1600 GMT) and stopped broadcasting just before 2:00 pm.
Colleyville police said in a tweet at 11:30 am (1730 GMT) that it was “conducting SWAT operations” at the address of the Congregation Beth Israel.
US President Joe Biden has been briefed “on the developing hostage situation,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter.
FBI agents were also on the scene, according to an AFP journalist.
Also present were Colleyville fire and rescue trucks, Dallas police and police from the nearby city of Southlake.
Colleyville police said FBI Crisis Negotiators were “in communication with the subject,” adding there were no injuries among those trapped inside the synagogue.
The police and city government did not immediately respond to requests for information from AFP.
Texas governor Greg Abbott described the situation as “tense” on Twitter.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was “closely monitoring” the hostage situation.
“We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers,” he wrote on Twitter.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted that the Israeli consul in Houston was on her way to the scene.
The Jewish Community Relations Council said they were praying for a “swift and safe resolution.”
“No one should ever be afraid to assemble in their place of worship,” the group said in a statement.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the hostage situation and said it was in contact with Colleyville Jewish leaders to “provide any assistance possible.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said he was grateful to have received calls from people of all religious backgrounds expressing concern over the situation and hope for a peaceful outcome.
But he warned that the violence would not stop with the synagogue.
“The person who hates me today is going to hate you tomorrow. So it may start with Jews. It doesn’t stop with Jews,” he told CNN.