FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — A man took four people hostage Saturday at a Jewish synagogue near Fort Worth and is demanding the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui from a nearby federal prison.
The yet-to-be-identified man entered Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville during morning Shabbat service and was heard on the synagogue’s livestream taking hostages. The stream has since been taken down on the synagogue’s Facebook profile. The heavily-accented man is heard repeatedly using expletives while telling hostages to “not cry” and to “not cry for me,” that he has “six beautiful children” of his own.
“My heart has turned to stone and I am going to die,” the man is heard saying before the stream abruptly ended.
One of the hostages has been identified as Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker. The hostage taker is heard saying he likes the rabbi, but that “everyone dies” if anyone tries to enter the building. The livestream was limited to only audio.
An unidentified male hostage dressed in a robe was quickly escorted out of the building at 5:00 p.m. Police later said he was a hostage released for health reasons.
The hostage taker is demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, who is being held 25 miles to the west at Federal Medical Center Carswell — a hospital for female inmates.
Known as “Lady al-Qaida,” Siddiqui, 49, is a neuroscientist who was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University before returning to her native Pakistan. U.S. officials claim she was recruited by the Taliban and used her scientific expertise towards biological and chemical warfare. Her supporters claim weapons are not related to her field of study and that she is being scapegoated in the post-9/11 war on terror.
They claim Siddiqui was abducted and tortured in secret prisons in Afghanistan without due process. She was sentenced to 86 years in federal prison in 2010 for trying to shoot U.S. personnel with a rifle while she was in custody in Afghanistan in 2008.
Several attempts at freeing Siddiqui have been made over the years, including failed attempts at trading her for western hostages. One such attempt resulted in the execution of kidnapped journalist James Foley by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Negotiators with the Dallas field office of the FBI are speaking with the hostage taker, according to the Colleyville Police Department. State Highway 26 near the synagogue remains open to traffic, but police have imposed a one-mile evacuation zone during the standoff.
The synagogue is in a heavily-residential area and residents are not being allowed to return home as of late Saturday afternoon. Several people parked in shopping centers along the highway were seen praying in their cars.
Early media reports incorrectly identified the hostage taker as Muhammad Siddiqui, Sidddiqui’s brother. His attorneys quickly denied it is their client in the synagogue.
The Council on American–Islamic Relations said Saturday they “strongly condemn” the hostage taking and that they are in contact with local community leaders to provide assistance.
“This latest antisemitic attack at a house of worship is an unacceptable act of evil,” said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR’s national deputy director. “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.”