Hostage negotiators became involved in a tense situation Saturday at a Texas synagogue where a man claiming to be the brother of a convicted terrorist has allegedly taken a rabbi and several others captive, police and media said.
US President Joe Biden was briefed “on the ongoing situation” in Colleyville, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Dallas, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter. “You will continue to receive updates from your team,” he added.
ABC News, citing an unspecified source, said the suspect took a rabbi and three other people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville.
ABC news reported that the hijacker was armed and had claimed to have bombs in various locations without disclosing which ones.
Citing a senior official, ABC reported that the man claimed to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui, a woman dubbed “Lady Qaeda” by US newspapers, and demanded that his sister be released from jail.
Siddiqui is being held at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
A former Pakistani scientist, she was sentenced by a New York court in 2010 to 86 years in prison for attempted murder of US officials in Afghanistan. His case sparked outrage in Pakistan.
A live feed from the congregation’s Facebook page during the Sabbath morning service appeared to capture the voice of a person speaking very loudly on audio. However, it did not show the scene inside the religious center.
On the broadcast a man could be heard saying, “Put my sister on the phone” and “I’m going to die.” It also said: “There is something wrong with the United States.”
The broadcast starts at 10:00 local time and stops just before 2:00 p.m.
Colleyville police reported in a tweet at 11:30 a.m. local time (4:30 p.m. GMT) that they were conducting a “SWAT operation” at the Beth Israel congregation.
Two hours later, authorities said the situation “was still ongoing.”
“We ask you to avoid the area. We will continue to provide updates through social networks,” police authorities added.
– Prayers –
FBI agents were present at the scene, according to the CNN video feed.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott described the situation as “tense.”
The Dallas Morning News reported that police were negotiating with a hostage taker but, citing police officer Dara Nelson, said it was not yet clear how many people are being held captive. Nelson added that it is not yet known if there are any injured people at the synagogue.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said his government is “closely monitoring” the situation.
“We pray for the safety of hostages and rescuers,” he tweeted.
Israel’s consul in Houston was on his way to the scene, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted.
Texas State Congressman Colin Allred sent a message of support saying he was “praying for the congregants in Colleyville.”
“No one should fear that something like this could happen in their place of worship,” he tweeted.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said police were deploying additional patrols at synagogues in that city and elsewhere.
The police department and the city government have not responded to AFP requests for more information.