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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hostages rescued safely, suspect dies in Texas synagogue standoff

A hostage was escorted out of Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday evening.

By Michael Levenson and Margarita Birnbaum

Police on Saturday night rescued a rabbi and several hostages who had been held by a man who claimed to have weapons and explosives at a synagogue in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, ending a tense 11-hour standoff, authorities said.

“Prayers answered,” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Twitter after the standoff was over in the suburb of Colleyville. “All hostages are out alive and safe.”

Michael C. Miller, the Colleyville police chief, said at a news conference that a hostage-rescue team had entered the synagogue, and the suspect was dead.

He and other authorities declined to identify the man or say how he had died. They did not make clear whether any weapons had been recovered.

About 200 local, state and federal law enforcement officers had converged on the synagogue, including a team of FBI agents who flew from Quantico, Virginia, authorities said.

The man had taken four hostages during a morning service at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, a city of about 26,000 residents that is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth, authorities said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said the man had demanded to see his “sister,” who may not actually be related to him and who is currently in U.S. federal custody for “terroristic events” in Afghanistan.

“The man claims he and his sister will be going to Jannah (Muslim belief of heaven) after he sees her,” the department said in a statement earlier Saturday.

The congregation had been holding a service at 10 a.m. It was being livestreamed on its Facebook page when, police said, they were called at 10:41 a.m.

On the livestream, a man could be heard shouting about dying and not liking police officers, although the context was not clear because the stream was inaudible at times. A video of the livestream did not show what was going on inside the synagogue.

The man could also be heard demanding to get his sister on the phone before the livestream stopped.

“It’s a deal,” he said at one point. “It’s a deal I had with you.”

One male hostage was released at about 5 p.m., police said. He was unharmed.

Miller said hostage negotiators had been speaking to the man throughout the day.

President Joe Biden put out a statement Saturday saying he was sending “love and strength” to members of the synagogue and the Jewish community overall.

“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker,” he said. “But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”

Eugene Posnock, a member of the synagogue, said she and other members had been following the service on Zoom when the man entered the sanctuary, disrupting prayers.

She said all she heard was yelling in the background before the connection was lost.

The hostage situation came as synagogues and Jewish institutions across the country have been on high alert after attacks like the one that killed a woman in Poway, California, in 2019, and another that killed 11 people in Pittsburgh in 2018.

Bradley Orsini, senior national security adviser for Secure Community Network, which consults with synagogues across the country on safety procedures, said that a colleague had advised Congregation Beth Israel on its security procedures last summer.

The consultation typically involves preparing for an active-shooter situation and developing awareness of any security threats, he said.

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