COLLEYVILLE, Texas — All four hostages who had been held inside a Texas synagogue were rescued Saturday night, over 10 hours after the standoff began.
Their captor — who could be heard ranting on the synagogue’s livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of trying to kill US Army officers in Afghanistan — died during the rescue operation at Congregation Beth Israel in the city of Colleyville. His identity is known to US authorities but was not released.
One hostage held Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville was released during the standoff; three others got out about 9 p.m. when an FBI SWAT team entered the building, authorities said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the hostage release on Saturday night. “Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” he said.
Local police later confirmed the successful rescue. A law enforcement official confirmed the death of the attacker. However, it wasn’t clear if law enforcement killed him or he died by suicide.
ABC News reported that the hostage-taker was armed and had claimed to have bombs in unknown locations. That was not confirmed by police.
Footage from ABC’s Dallas affiliate shows at least two of the hostages running out of Congregation Beth Israel after the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team breached the building.
— LockharTVMedia (@LockharTVMedia) January 16, 2022
Shortly before the captives’ release, reporters from the Forth Worth Star-Telegram at the scene said they heard “sounds like gunshots,” and a “loud bang.”
Stacey Silverman, a member of the synagogue, told CNN that she watched a livestream of the services for more than an hour before it was shut down by Facebook, listening to the attacker ranting, vacillating between different languages and “screaming hysterically,” she said.
“At any moment, I thought there was going to be a gunshot,” Silverman said, noting that the man also at times claimed to have a bomb.
Another witness to the livestream told the outlet the attacker could be heard shouting that he hates Jews. The attacker also reportedly showed what the network described as “wild swings of emotion.” The viewer’s claim could not be independently verified.
The hostage-taker could also be heard on the livestream saying that the congregation welcomed him in when he said he was seeking shelter.
“They let me in. I said ‘Is this a night shelter?’ and they let me in and they gave me a cup of tea so I do feel bad,” he said.
“I like the rabbi” — Charlie Cytron-Walker. “He’s a good guy, I bonded with him, I really like him… I’ve only been here for a couple hours but I can see he’s a good guy,” the attacker added.
An FBI representative near the scene of Congregation Beth Israel said there were no known ongoing threats to the Jewish community related to the hostage situation. The attacker made demands regarding a specific issue and was not threatening the larger Jewish community, the FBI said.
Matthew DeSarno, the special agent in charge of FBI Dallas, told reporters that law enforcement has determined the identity of the hostage-taker but was not prepared to divulge it at this time.
“We will conduct an independent investigation,” he said.
The now-deceased gunman “was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” DeSarno told reporters at the scene, without elaborating.
DeSarno said federal investigators would reach out to colleagues at branch offices in Tel Aviv and London as they conduct their probe into the attacker.
הקלטה מתוך מתוך השידור החי בבית הכנסת "יש משהו מזדיין במערכת. משהו מזדיין באמריקה" pic.twitter.com/2ChJSkGttQ
— Zvika Klein צביקה קליין (@ZvikaKlein) January 15, 2022
The hostage-taker could be heard on a livestream of the services that was later cut off referencing Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national known as the “Lady al-Qaeda.” Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 by a New York City federal court of attempting to kill US military personnel. She is currently serving an 86-year sentence at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, Texas, some 15 miles southwest of Colleyville.
ABC, citing a source at the scene, said the hostage-taker was demanding Siddiqui’s release.
More than 200 law enforcement officers were involved in the hostage situation throughout the day, including an FBI hostage rescue team flown in from Virginia.
US President Joe Biden said after the crisis: “We will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”
“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”
Police received the first call about the hostage situation at 10:41 a.m. local time. The FBI and a SWAT team responded to the scene along with local police, and FBI hostage negotiators made contact with the captor.
The attacker took the hostages during Shabbat morning services, including the congregation’s rabbi. One of the captives was released unharmed six hours later.
The hostage-taker was believed to have been armed, but law enforcement has not confirmed that he had a weapon.
Siddiqui had a history of antisemitism and blamed Israel for her imprisonment. A US court convicted her of trying to kill American service members in 2010. After her conviction, she said, “This is a verdict coming from Israel and not from America. That’s where the anger belongs.”
During her trial, she told her judge she didn’t want Jews in the jury “if they have a Zionist or Israeli background,” adding: “I have a feeling everyone here is them, subject to genetic testing.”
Congregation Beth Israel was established in 1999 and counts roughly 140 families as members.
Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community, including doing pulpit swaps and participating in a community peace walk. She described Saturday’s events as “surreal.”
“This is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation,” Eisen said. “No matter how it turns out it’s hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be.”
Police increased security for synagogues in Dallas, New York and Los Angeles following the start of the incident.
The Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions across the US, said there were no known threats to US Jewish communities after the crisis ended.
“There is no information to suggest there is a broader threat to the Jewish community at this time as it relates to this incident,” the group said.
The FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics report showed that antisemitic hate crimes were 57% of all religious crimes, by far the largest proportion of any group in the US.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said that US leaders must take a stand against antisemitism.
“This horrific incident reminds us that US leaders must act today. Disaster awaits if serious action is not taken against antisemitism,” Erdan said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.