“We will be dissecting lessons from this incident, and redoubling our efforts to strengthen the safety and security of synagogues and Jewish institutions across the country,” said Evan Bernstein, national director and CEO of the Community Security Service.
By JNS staff
Four congregants at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, were released on Saturday night after being held hostage for about 12 hours. One hostage was released early in the evening, several hours before the other three, who were freed after members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team stormed the synagogue.
At 9:33 p.m. local time, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted: “All hostages are out alive and safe.”
Colleyville police confirmed shortly afterwards that the “SWAT situation in Colleyville is resolved, and all hostages are safe.”
The armed hostage-taker was killed at the scene. Authorities have identified him but say they cannot yet release his identity to the public, said the FBI.
The assailant had taken the rabbi—Charlie Cytron-Walker, a married father of two who took the synagogue position in 2006—and three others hostage during Shabbat-morning services in a reported attempt to free a Pakistani woman who has ties with Al-Qaeda.
The Colleyville Police Department said 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, reported The New York Times. A video of the live-stream, however, didn’t show what was going on inside the building.
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 FBI crisis negotiators were in communication with the man during the course of the day. One hostage was released around 5 p.m. local time, reported the Colleyville Police Department.
NBC News reported that at one point, the hostage-taker had Cytron-Walker call a rabbi in New York City to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui.
The suspect could be heard mentioning 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 the 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. 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, about 25 miles from Colleyville. Multiple law-enforcement sources told ABC News that the hostage-taker was demanding the release of Siddiqui.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said U.S President Joe Biden had been briefed on the “hostage situation,” that he had received continuous updates from his senior team, and that he had been keeping watch on the situation.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he, too, had been “closely monitoring” events and praying “for the safety of the hostages and rescuers.”
Members of the nearby Islamic Center of Southlake stood in support of the synagogue and the rabbi, and expressed shock and dismay that such a situation happened there.
Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in a city of about 26,000 residents, is located 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. It was established in 1999 with about 25 families and has since grown to more than 100.
‘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 United States 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.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said it had been closely monitoring the ongoing situation with its national partners at the Secure Community Network and Anti-Defamation League, who had personnel near the synagogue.
“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,” wrote Conference chair Dianne Lob, Chair, CEO William Daroff and vice chair Malcolm Hoenlein.
As the situation came to a conclusion, StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said “we appreciate the brave diligence of law enforcement and vocal support of people of different faiths and backgrounds, including local Christian and Muslim leaders in Texas.”
Still, Evan Bernstein, national director and CEO of the Community Security Service, said that the threat to American Jews “remains 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.”