All hostages out and safe at Texas synagogue, governor says

By Alaa Elassar, Michelle Watson and Alanne Orjoux, CNN

The hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas is over, according to the governor of Texas.

“Prayers answered. All hostages made it out alive and safe,” Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about 20 minutes after a loud bang and gunshots were heard heading towards the synagogue.

The status of the suspect is not yet known.

The resolution came more than 10 hours after a suspect walked into Congregation Beth Israel as the synagogue was livestreaming its Sabbath morning service on Facebook. The live stream appeared to capture part of the incident before it was deleted. Law enforcement officials told CNN they reviewed the feed and used it to gather clues about the incident and the people involved.

Two law enforcement officials told CNN that investigators believe the hostage taker may have been motivated by a desire to free Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence in a Texas facility. She was convicted in 2010 of seven counts, including attempted murder and assault with a weapon against US officers in Afghanistan.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN there are believed to be four hostages, including a rabbi, at the Colleyville Synagogue, just outside Fort Worth. Several hours after the clash began, Colleyville Police Sgt. Dara Nelson said a hostage had been freed.

No injuries were reported at that time, Nelson said.

FBI negotiators were in contact with the suspect, Nelson said.

The suspect apparently wanted Siddiqui released

Officials said the suspect wanted Siddiqui released, based on both discussions with the suspect and audio heard on the synagogue live stream.

The lawyer representing Siddiqui said on Saturday “she had absolutely no involvement in” the synagogue hostage-taking and said the perpetrator was not Siddiqui’s brother.

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

“Whoever the perpetrator is, we want them to know that their actions are condemned by Dr Aafia and his family,” Elbially said. “We implore you to immediately release the hostages and surrender.”

At the request of the hostage taker, the rabbi of the congregation who was being held hostage called a well-known rabbi in New York, according to two officials briefed on the investigation.

The FBI has questioned the New York-based rabbi who spoke to the hostage taker earlier on Saturday. The hostage taker, who has no connection to the rabbi, told her that Siddiqi had been framed and wanted her released, officials said.

Congregation member Stacey Silverman described watching the live stream for over an hour, listening to the suspect rant, sometimes alternating between saying “I’m not a criminal” and apologizing for the situation. The suspect was hesitating between different languages ​​and “screaming hysterically”, she said.

“At all times I thought there was going to be a gunshot,” Silverman said, adding that the suspect claimed to have a bomb.

Congregation Beth Israel is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, whose website says the congregation serves 157 member families.

The synagogue, established in 1999 with 25 member families, was the first Jewish congregation in Northeast Tarrant County, according to the CBI website. The CBI community officially opened in its new building in 2005.

CBI holds Sabbath morning services every Saturday, and members and nonmembers alike are welcome to watch from home on the livestream, a practice many synagogues have adopted in the wake of the pandemic.

Who is Aafia Siddiqui?

In 2010, Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a federal judge in New York after a 14-day trial. A jury found her guilty of attempted murder of US nationals and government employees, as well as assault on US officers and employees.

Siddiqui – a Pakistani scientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds a doctorate from Brandeis University – was taken into custody for questioning by Afghan National Police in 2008, who said they found handwritten notes referring to to potential targets of a “mass accident”. attack,” according to a federal indictment.

When a group of Americans tried to talk to her, prosecutors say she was able to grab a US soldier’s rifle and open fire on the interrogation team, although no one was hit by gunshots.

At sentencing, the judge found that an amelioration of terrorism applied to her crimes, citing statements she made that the judge found demonstrating her actions and intent to retaliate against the government. American, including “I Hate Americans” and “Death to America”.

Siddiqui’s defense argued that she was incompetent to stand trial. But Siddiqui repeatedly clashed with her attorneys, telling the judge at sentencing, “If anyone thinks it’s my paranoia or whatever, I’m not paranoid.” I am not mentally ill. I don’t agree with that. She also said she believed Israel “orchestrated 9/11.”

His conviction has been the subject of regular protests in the United States and abroad. Frequent protests have been organized by the Aafia Foundation, a group that bears his name. This group claimed that she had been assaulted in prison last year.

Her family said in interviews with CNN that she was not a terrorist.

During a deadly hostage situation in Algeria in 2013, a spokesman for a militant group offered to release hostages if Siddiqui was freed from US prison, along with Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the mastermind of the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, who has since died in prison.

Siddiqui is being held in a medical facility part of a federal prison in Fort Worth, with a release date set at 60.

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CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, Evan Perez, Ed Lavandera and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.