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Man Takes Rabbi, Several Others Hostage at Texas Synagogue

A man has taken a rabbi and several other hostages at a synagogue on Colleyville, Texas on Saturday in a reported attempt to free a Pakistani woman who has ties with al-Qaeda.

The Colleyville Police Department said that it was first called about the situation at 10:41 a.m. local time as the synagogue was holding its Shabbat service. The service had been live-streamed on Facebook, where a man could be heard shouting about dying and not liking police officers, the New York Times reported. A video of the live-stream did not show what was going on inside the synagogue.

The man could also be heard asking to get his sister on the phone before the live-stream stopped.

“It’s a deal,” he said at one point. “It’s a deal I had with you.”

Colleyville police said that the F.B.I. crisis negotiators were in communication with the man. One hostage was released around 5 p.m. local time, the Colleyville Police Department said.

The synagogue’s rabbi is Charlie Cytron-Walker, a married father of two who took up his post in 2006, according to the congregation’s website. NBC News reported that the hostage-taker had the rabbi call a different rabbi in New York City to demand the release of Siddiqui.

The suspect could be heard mentioning Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national who was convicted in 2010 by a New York federal court for of two counts of attempted murder, armed assault, using and carrying a firearm and assault of U.S. officers and employees for shooting at federal agents and American soldiers while she was detained in Afghanistan, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). As jurors left the courtroom, Siddiqui exclaimed, “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America. That’s where the anger belongs.”

Currently, she is serving an 86-year sentence at Carswell Air Force Base, located about 25 miles from Colleyville. Multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News that the hostage-taker is demanding the release of Siddiqui.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the “developing hostage situation” and that he will continue to receive updates from his senior team.

“Senior members of the national security team are also in touch with federal law enforcement leadership,” she said on Twitter.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot said that the Texas Department of Public Safety was also on the scene in what he described as a “tense hostage situation.”

“They are working with local and federal teams to achieve the best and safest outcome,” Abbott said.

Congregation Beth Israel is a Reform synagogue located in Colleyville, Texas, a city of about 26,000 residents that is 15 miles northeast of Forth Worth. The synagogue was established in 1999 with about 25 families and has since grown to over 100.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that he was “closely monitoring” the situation in Texas.

“We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers.”

Israel’s consul general to the U.S. southwest, Livia Link, said that she was on her way to the standoff.

‘We must spare no effort to ensure that American Jews are safe’

American Jewish groups and communal security organizations reacted with concern and dismay over the situation, which they attributed to rising levels of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in recent years.

“When Jews tell you anti-Semitism is a problem, listen to us. Anti-Semitism doesn’t just come from the white neo-Nazi movement – it comes from many sources like we see unfolding today in Colleyville, Texas. It’s critical not to turn a blind eye to any of it as the consequences can be catastrophic,” said Liora Rez, founder and executive director of the watchdog group StopAntisemitism.

“Our thoughts are with all the hostages and their families, along with the first responders, as they try to navigate this terrifying situation,” she said.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said that it was closely monitoring the ongoing situation with its national partners at the Secure Community Network and Anti-Defamation League, who have personnel near the synagogue.

“We pray for the safety of those inside the synagogue, as well as the members of law enforcement responding at the scene,” wrote Dianne Lob, Chair, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice-Chair.

“Collectively, we must spare no effort to ensure that American Jews are safe in their houses of worship and community centers. Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, and now Colleyville, must not become the ‘new normal’ for our community.”

Similarly, Evan Bernstein, national director and CEO of the Community Security Service, a Jewish security nonprofit, said that the threat to Jews in the U.S. “remain real and dangerous.”

“We will be dissecting lessons from this incident as details emerge, and redoubling our efforts to strengthen the safety and security of synagogues and Jewish institutions across the country,” he said.

“Today’s events serve as another clear reminder to Jewish communities nationwide that prioritizing security is paramount. Our thoughts are with the hostages, their families and the Colleyville Jewish community.”