COLLEYVILLE, Texas—A bizarre, daylong hostage drama at a Dallas-area synagogue ended in dramatic fashion late Saturday with an eruption of what sounded like gunfire, the release of all the captives, and the suspect declared dead.
Witnesses at the scene described hearing several loud bangs following by gun shots. Soon after, Gov. Greg Abbott declared in a statement: “Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe.”
Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller confirmed at a late-night news conference Saturday that the hostage-taker was dead, but gave no further details about the circumstances of his death. Similarly, the FBI said investigators had identified the suspect but could not yet name him publicly.
Matt DeSarno, the special agent in charge at FBI Dallas, told reporters authorities had no reason to believe there was “any ongoing threat” and that the suspect had focused on “one issue that was not specifically threatening to the Jewish community.”
Miller said the synagogue was still considered a crime scene despite all the hostages being freed, as bomb techs still had to clear the area.
The release of the hostages ended a standoff that began when a man burst into Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday morning, ranting about Islam and calling for the release of a convicted terrorist from federal prison—all while being recorded on a Facebook livestream.
The suspect’s name was not immediately released but his actions were condemned by the terrorist he name-checked: Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence at a federal prison in Fort Worth after being convicted in New York of trying to assassinate U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
She released a statement through her lawyer directly addressing the hostage-taker and urging him to stand down.
Marwa Elbially, an attorney for Siddiqui, told The Daily Beast the 49-year-old inmate had one message: “She would tell this individual to immediately release the hostages. She does not condone or accept anything that would lead to harm of any other human being.”
Her family released a similar statement, denouncing the hostage-taking.
“We want the hostage-taker to know that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her family strongly condemn this act and do not stand by you. This assailant has nothing to do with Dr. Aafia, her family, or the global campaign to get justice for Dr. Aafia. We want the assailant to know that his actions are wicked and directly undermine those of us who are seeking justice for Dr. Aafia,” the statement said.
Colleyville Police said that SWAT teams descended on the synagogue at 10:41 a.m. local time. The FBI also arrived on the scene to negotiate with the suspect. No details were released about the man, who is believed have held four people hostage—including the rabbi.
Members of the Islamic Center of Southlake, which is next to Colleyville, identified the rabbi who was held hostage as Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, calling it “unthinkable” he would be confronted with such a situation.
The synagogue’s Facebook livestream kept rolling as the siege unfolded, providing a glimpse into the tense situation until Facebook removed the video at about 2 p.m. Nobody could be seen on the video, but a man with an accent could be heard making repeated demands to speak to his “sister” on the phone, and to have her released from prison.
Citing law enforcement sources, NBC News and ABC News reported that the sister was Siddiqui.
NBC also reported that the suspect got the rabbi to call another rabbi in New York to demand Siddiqui’s release, though the New York-based rabbi called 911 instead.
A lawyer who previously represented Siddiqui’s biological brother told The Daily Beast that he was not the person inside the synagogue, which the family later confirmed.
Muhammad Siddiqui, an architect, was not happy that he had been implicated in the situation, and wanted people to know that Aafia was not the suspect’s biological “sister,” said Annette Lamoreaux, who represented Muhammad in 2004 when the FBI questioned him over Aafia’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Throughout the Facebook livestream, the intruder made vague, expletive-laden rants. He said he liked the synagogue’s rabbi and appreciated being let into the building. But he threatened that any police officer who tried to apprehend him would be shot. He claimed to have been carrying a bag around for 16 hours containing weapons.
The man also made multiple references to his own mortality, saying he believed he was going to die and he had left “six beautiful kids.” He expressed anger at England and made multiple mentions of his “sister.” It’s unclear who he was speaking to throughout the livestream.
At one point, the suspect asked the synagogue’s occupants how many children they have, and the four people inside could be heard giving muffled responses.
A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, told The Daily Beast, “We removed the video from the synagogue’s page, and will also remove content praising or supporting this incident. We are in contact with law enforcement as the situation continues to evolve.”
Since Siddiqui’s conviction, her family, supporters, and multiple terrorist groups have called for her release. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have offered to exchange American prisoners in exchange for her, garnering her the title of the “The World’s Most Wanted Woman” in a 2014 Foreign Policy profile.
In September, Siddiqui filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons alleging that an inmate assaulted her with a mug full of hot liquid that left her in “excruciating pain” and unable to walk. She alleged the agency slow-walked her Freedom of Information Act request to obtain her medical records.
In Colleyville, located in the suburban region between Dallas and Fort Worth, police asked the public to avoid the area.
Just after 5 p.m. local time, as the hostage situation dragged into its sixth hour, people could be seen praying in their vehicles at a nearby parking lot, as several armored SWAT vehicles parked at a staging area at a nearby middle school.
Nearby residents were evacuated from the surrounding area as police surrounded the building, with little to no information available on what was happening inside.
The White House and Texas Sens. Ted Cruz (R) and John Cornyn (R) said they were in contact with local authorities and monitoring the situation. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also said he was monitoring the situation.
Council on American–Islamic Relations national deputy director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement that they “strongly condemn” the incident.
“This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil,” the statement said. “We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly and safely free the hostages. No cause can justify or excuse this crime. We are in contact with local community leaders to learn more and provide any assistance that we can.”
—with additional reporting by Blake Montgomery