Hostages at Texas Synagogue Released Safely (UPDATE)

Texas Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the four hostages, said his captor was “increasingly belligerent and threatening” as the situation continued. 

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UPDATED 1/17, 11:40 a.m. ET: Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the four hostages held at the Texas synagogue by an armed British national, said his captor became “increasingly belligerent and threatening” as the situation wore on. 

As the Associated Press reports, Cytron-Walker said he was thankful for his security training provided by the congregation over the past few years. “In the last hour of our hostage crisis, the gunman became increasingly belligerent and threatening,” said Cytron-Walker in a statement. “Without the instruction we received, we would not have been prepared to act and flee when the situation presented itself.”

The captor has been identified as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram. He was killed after the hostages were able to escape the synagogue on Sunday, although authorities haven’t revealed who shot him as the investigation is still ongoing. 

Authorities have since revealed Akram arrived in the United States on a tourist visa in recent months. Counter-terrorism police in the United Kingdom have confirmed they are in communication with those in the U.S. It’s not clear why Akram chose the synagogue, but audio from a Facebook livestream indicated he was demanding the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who has been convicted for suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

UPDATED 1/16, 11:55 p.m. ET: On Twitter, Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed all the hostages were safe and released. They were held for 11 hours.

See original story below.

Authorities say they’re negotiating with a man who has taken multiple people hostage at a Texas synagogue.

According to CNN, the situation unfolded during Saturday services at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, located about 30 miles outside of Dallas. Officials say the incident was partially captured on a Facebook livestream, in which a man could be heard apologizing to the hostages and making several remarks about Islam. Sources say the synagogue began livestreaming its services in wake of the COVID-19 lockdowns. More than 8,000 people were reportedly watching the stream before it was pulled.

Though police have yet to determine a motive, the livestream audio suggests the man was calling for the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted terrorist who is believed to be his sister.

In 2010, Siddiqui was convicted of trying to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan. The Pakistani woman is now serving an 86-year prison sentence in a Texas facility. Siddiqui’s attorney, Marwa Elbially, told CNN her client “has absolutely no involvement with” the hostage situation.

“She does not want any violence perpetrated against any human being, especially in her name,” Elbially told the network. “It obviously has nothing to do with Dr. Siddiqui or her family.”

Authorities have not publicly identified any of the hostages, but believe a rabbi is among those being held. The hostage taker made the rabbi call another rabbi in New York. The call was meant to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui.

At around 6 p.m. ET, one of the hostages was released. Colleyville Police Department Sgt. Dara Nelson told CNN the man was unharmed: “FBI Crisis Negotiators continue contact with the subject,” Nelson said. 

As of press time, no injuries or shots have been reported, and investigators are still unclear whether the suspect is armed.

“We are currently conducting SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd,” the Colleyville Police Department told CNN. “All residents in the immediate area are being evacuated. Please avoid the area. We ask that you continue to avoid the area. We will continue to provide updates via social media.”

A number of political figures have responded to the situation, including Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

The FBI is also on the scene, assisting with the negotiations. A loud bang was heard according to people on the scene, followed by a short blast of rapid gunfire coming from the direction of the synagogue. Texas officials confirmed the hostage taker was armed and has died.

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