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Authorities said a man took hostages Saturday at a Texas synagogue where the suspect could be heard ranting on a livestream of the services and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.
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-Qaida 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 on scene
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.
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,” she said. "He was clearly in extreme distress."
Francis, who lives in Rhome, Texas, and grew up near Colleyville, tuned in after she read about the hostage situation. 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.
"It's a scary situation. I'm hopeful it ends the best way it can, obviously with no one hurt," she said.
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.
Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist with advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges that she assaulted and shot at U.S. Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as victimized by the American criminal justice system.
In the years since, Pakistan officials have expressed interest publicly in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from U.S. custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters. In 2018, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attempt to free Siddiqui was sentenced to 22 years in prison.