Police and FBI negotiating with hostage taker at Texas synagogue

The FBI and local police were on Saturday night locked in what Texas governor Greg Abbott described as a “tense hostage situation” at a synagogue outside Dallas.

Police in Colleyville, a city about 25 miles west of Dallas, evacuated the area around the Congregation Beth Israel after being called to an “emergency situation” at about 11am.

Law enforcement said FBI crisis negotiators were in communication with the suspect, who had interrupted a worship service that was being livestreamed on Facebook.

The Associated Press and local news media reported that the suspect could be heard on the livestream demanding the release of a woman that law enforcement officials said was Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda. Siddiqui was convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, and is serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison in Texas.

Police provided few details about the hostage situation, but said that no injuries had been reported.

The AP reported at least four hostages, including the synagogue’s rabbi, were believed to be inside. Local authorities later said that one male hostage had been released uninjured, shortly after 5pm local time.

Abbott said the state’s department of public safety was on the scene, adding that he would “continue to monitor” the situation.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation.

“He will continue to receive updates from his senior team as the situation develops,” Psaki said, adding: “Senior members of the national security team are also in touch with federal law enforcement leadership.”

The US Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying that Alejandro Mayorkas, the US secretary of homeland security, had also been briefed on the developments and that the department was “coordinating with our federal, state, local and community partners”.

Naftali Bennett, prime minister of Israel, wrote on Twitter that he was “closely monitoring” the situation at the Texas synagogue, adding: “We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers.”

Dallas mayor Eric Johnson said the city’s police department was deploying additional officers to local synagogues “as a precaution”.

“Police are working with the Jewish Federation and our local, state, and federal partners to monitor any concerns or threats based on the situation in Colleyville,” he added.

Many US authorities increased security at Jewish places of worship after an anti-Semitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2018. A lone gunman killed 11 people and wounded six in that attack.

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