Hostage Situation at Synagogue Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas


New York Post

Police at synagogue Beth Israel in Colleyville, Tex.

Sophia Cooper, Staff Writer

  On Jan. 15 a suspect walked into a synagogue in Colleyville, Tex. during an active Shabbat שַׁבָּת service, taking four people hostage in attempt to free a woman named Aafia Siddiqui.   

   According to many news sources the police arrived on site on Jan. 15 at around 10:45 a.m. after receiving a 911 call at 10:41. At 12:31 p.m., the Colleyville Police Department Tweeted, “We are currently conducting SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd. All residents in the immediate area are being evacuated. Please avoid the area.” There were believed to be four hostages, a rabbi among them.

   Police Sgt. Dara Nelson told CNN that at this time there are believed to be no injuries and the police have evacuated the area. At this time the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety are assisting the Colleyville Police Department. The FBI is currently trying to figure out what they are dealing with, whether it is a hate crime, an act of terrorism or something else. It was revealed that the suspect chose this synagogue because it is near an airport.

   The FBI and ATF quickly assisted local authorities. CNN reported that “the FBI negotiators are the ones who have contact with the person in the building.” There is “no threat to the general public” at this time, Nelson of CNN added. At 4:30 p.m., the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Tweeted, “.@ATFDallas is assisting @FBIDallas & @ColleyvillePD in the ongoing incident.”

   The situation soon gained international attention. Israel’s minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai wrote in a Tweet, “Monitoring closely from Israel the hostage situation unfolding at Beth Israel Congregation where the Jewish community gathered for Shabbat services in Colleyville, Texas. Praying for an immediate and safe end.” In addition, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Tweeted at 5:04 p.m., “.@POTUS has been briefed about the developing hostage situation in the Dallas area. He will continue to receive updates from his senior team as the situation develops. Senior members of the national security team are also in touch with federal law enforcement leadership.” 

   The FBI remained in contact with the suspect inside the synagogue to resolve the situation without violence.

   “A U.S. official briefed on the matter told ABC News the hostage-taker is claiming to be the brother of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, but authorities have not yet confirmed his identity. The suspect is demanding to have the sister freed, the official said,” according to ABC News. “Siddiqui is a Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year U.S. prison sentence [in a Texas facility] after her 2010 conviction of shooting at soldiers and FBI agents, and demanding she be freed,” The Guardian wrote.

Later in the night Siddiqui’s attorney confirmed that the suspect is Siddiqui’s brother. In a statement attorney Marwa Elbially called these actions heinous and wrong and that she and Aafia Siddiqui want him to know that he should release the hostages and turn himself in. Elbially said that the 49-year-old inmate had one message for the hostage taker: “She would tell this individual to immediately release the hostages. She does not condone or accept anything that would lead to harm of any other human being.”

   The sister of Siddiqui responded to the incident saying, “I’m Aafia’s sister. We’re Aafia’s family. And we speak on her behalf as well. We want no violence in Aafia’s name. Our whole struggle has been one that is dignified that is peaceful that is legal,” according to CNN. CNN also reported that Siddiqui was openly anti-semetic and at her trial insisted that there were no Jews on her jury.

   A CNN reporter talked to an unidentified person belonging to the synagogue who said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic many people live streamed the services instead of attending in person. Many of the people livestreaming stayed on the live stream until it was cut off around 3 p.m. to monitor the situation. It is reported that this is an unusual situation, as the suspect did not start the incident by shooting and many people who were on the livestream reported that the suspect started off by somewhat apologizing for the situation. U.S. News writes that “the man could be heard having a one-sided conversation in what appeared to be a phone call during a livestream of the Reform Jewish synagogue’s Shabbat service. The livestream cut off around 3 p.m. EST.”

   So far many media outlets have been denied access to the premises. Phil Mudd, CNN’s counterterrorism analyst who talked to CNN’s Jim Acosta said that it was crucial that the media does not have access to the area. If the suspect watches any footage of the active SWAT operation, he could hurt the hostages to avoid capture. 

   Authorities confirmed that around 6 p.m. a male hostage was released from the synagogue. 

   After a more than 10 hour standoff the additional three hostages were released. CNN’s team in Colleyville and many others heard a loud bang and rapid gunfire for a short time coming from the direction of the synagogue. At 10:33 p.m. Greg Abbot Tweeted, “Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe.” Abbot released no additional details. Officials hosted a news conference at 11:15 p.m. E.T. following the successful rescue. At the news conference the police confirmed their only suspect is dead, confirming that the hostage rescue team entered the synagogue at around 9 p.m. At 9:55 p.m. (10:55 p.m. E.T.) the Colleyville police established that the situation had been resolved and that they and the FBI were working to finalize all of the details. Congregation Beth Israel is still a crime scene and the bomb technicians are still on site. 

   “FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno said authorities are still investigating the suspect’s motive, but believe ‘he was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,’” according to CNN. According to the Washington Post, the suspect is a 44-year old British male. The Washington Post also mentions that the suspect could be heard saying that the suspect flew to the area from 5,000 miles away and he chose a synagogue because the U.S. only cares about Jewish lives. The FBI has identified the suspect as Malik Faisal Akram. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team killed the suspect after rescuing the remaining 3 hostages who were rescued from the synagogue at around 9 p.m. 

   Akram arrived in the U.S. five weeks earlier through John F. Kennedy airport in New York. According to authorities he entered the U.S. legally and was vetted upon his arrival, however nothing in his check hinted that he might commit this crime. According to CNN Akram was not on any government watch list. “British intelligence told its U.S. counterparts that a preliminary review of its databases show no worrying information on Akram,” according to CNN. “Two teenagers were arrested in south Manchester, England, in connection with the Texas incident and were awaiting questioning.”

   In response to this incident many cities are still monitoring places of worship and specifically Jewish places of worship or buildings of significant importance to the Jewish community.