Multiple U.S. cities are on high alert after a man took hostages Saturday during services at a Texas synagogue where he could be heard ranting in a livestream and demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist who was convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan.
Authorities are still trying to discern a precise motive for the attack. The hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, the officials said. He also said he wanted to be able to speak with her, according to the officials. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
Los Angeles-area law enforcement authorities are monitoring local Jewish houses of worship.
"We're closely following a hostage situation that is taking place at a synagogue in Colleyville, TX," the Los Angeles Police Department tweeted Saturday afternoon. "We're working with our federal partners, increasing patrols around synagogues in LA as a precautionary measure, and conducting community outreach to ensure the safety of Angelenos."
The city of Beverly Hills also reported that the Beverly Hills Police Department would increase patrols around Jewish houses of worship, out of an abundance of caution.
The NYPD is also beefing up security at synagogues across New York City in the midst of the ongoing hostage situation.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the NYPD has deployed additional resources to key Jewish locations around the city tonight," Mayor Eric Adams said in a tweet.
Police were first called to the Texas synagogue around 11 a.m. and people were evacuated from the surrounding neighborhood soon after that, FBI Dallas spokesperson Katie Chaumont said. There have been no reported injuries, Chaumont said.
"It’s an evolving situation, and we have a lot of law enforcement personnel on scene," Chaumont said.
The services were being livestreamed on the synagogue’s Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which didn’t show what was happening inside the synagogue.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the man said, "You got to do something. I don’t want to see this guy dead." Moments later, the feed cut out. A Meta company spokesperson later confirmed that Facebook removed the video.
Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his "sister" on the livestream, but Faizan Syed, the executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations in Dallas Fort-Worth Texas, told The Associated Press that Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved. Syed said CAIR’s support and prayers were with the people being held in the synagogue.
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 kilometers) northeast of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a leafy residential neighborhood that includes several churches, a middle and elementary school and a horse farm.
Congregation Beth Israel is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi. He has worked to bring a sense of spirituality, compassion and learning to the community, according to his biography, and he loves welcoming everyone, including LGBT people, into the congregation.
Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said the congregation has about 140 members and Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community, including doing pulpit swaps and participating in a community peace walk. She described Saturday’s events as "surreal."
"This is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation," Eisen said. "No matter how it turns out it’s hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday evening that President Joe Biden had been briefed and was receiving updates from senior officials.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was monitoring the situation closely. "We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers," he wrote on Twitter.
CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, condemned the attack Saturday.
"This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil," CAIR National Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement. "We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly and safely free the hostages. No cause can justify or excuse this crime."
Siddiqui earned advanced degrees from Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before she was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges that she assaulted and shot at U.S. Army officers after being detained in Afghanistan two years earlier. The punishment sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as victimized by the American criminal justice system.
In the years since, Pakistan officials have expressed interest publicly in any sort of deal or swap that could result in her release from U.S. custody, and her case has continued to draw attention from supporters. In 2018, for instance, an Ohio man who prosecutors say planned to fly to Texas and attack the prison where Siddiqui is being held in an attempt to free her was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.