(CNN) — An elite FBI hostage rescue team stormed a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, on Saturday night, safely recovering three hostages after a nearly 11-hour standoff, federal and local officials reported.
The sole suspect, identified by the FBI as 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram, is dead, authorities added. The FBI confirmed that Akram is a British citizen.
A spokesman for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in an email to CNN on Sunday that the government was “aware of the death of a British man in Texas and is in contact with local authorities”, but he did not confirm that it was the same man as the kidnapper.
Texas Governor: All hostages are safe
“Prayers answered. All hostages are alive and safe,” Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about 20 minutes later gunshots and a large bench were heard heading towards the synagogue.
Minutes earlier, a CNN crew heard a loud bang followed by a short burst of rapid-fire gunfire coming from the direction of the synagogue.
The suspect is dead, according to Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller.
“Sometime around 9pm today tonight, the HRT, the hostage rescue team, broke into the synagogue [y] They rescued all three hostages, and the subject was deceased,” Chief Miller said.
Authorities have identified the suspected kidnapper but cannot release his identity to the public at this time, Matt DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas, said at a news conference.
He added that there is no sign yet that this is part of “any ongoing threat,” and that investigators believe the suspect focused on “an issue that did not specifically threaten the Jewish community.”
There will be further investigations into the suspect’s contacts and motives, and authorities are already in contact with associates in other countries, DeSarno said.
The four rescued hostages are unharmed and will soon be reunited with their families, it added.
The FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety went to a hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel, according to Colleyville Police Sgt. Dara Nelson.
Law enforcement officials told CNN investigators the situation may have been motivated by a desire to free Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence at a facility in Texas.
The FBI interviewed a New York City rabbi who spoke with the kidnapper today, according to two officials briefed on the investigation.
She is a well-known rabbi who has no connection to the kidnapper. According to the official, the kidnapper told him that Siddiqi was framed and wants her released. The rabbi of the congregation being held hostage called the New York City rabbi at the kidnapper’s request.
Siddiqi was convicted in 2010 of seven charges, including attempted murder and armed robbery against US agents in Afghanistan.
Sources told CNN the assessment is based on both conversations with the suspect and audio heard on the synagogue’s live feed.
According to Sergeant Nelson there are no injuries at this time, adding that police have evacuated the area.
“The FBI negotiators are the ones who have contact with the person in the building,” Nelson said. There is “no threat to the general public” at this time, Nelson added.
The hostage taking took place while the congregation was in the middle of its morning service, which was being broadcast live on Facebook.
That live stream appeared to capture part of the incident before it was removed. Law enforcement officials told CNN they reviewed the feed and are using it to gather leads about the incident and the people involved.
Police ask people to avoid the area.
“We currently run SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd,” he said. the Colleyville Police Department. “All residents in the immediate area are being evacuated. Please avoid the area.”
“We ask that you continue to avoid the area. We will continue to provide updates via social media,” police said.
President Biden has been briefed on developments at a Texas synagogue and top members of his national security team are in contact with federal law enforcement leaders, according to a tweet from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
in a tweet Posted Saturday night, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he is closely monitoring the situation in Colleyville. “The Texas Department of Public Safety is on the scene of the tense hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas. They are working with local and federal teams to achieve the best and safest outcome,” the governor tweeted.
The Dallas Police Department is deploying additional patrols to Dallas synagogues and other sites as a precaution, tweeted the mayor of the city of Dallas, Eric Johnson, on Saturday night.
Colleyville is located about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth.
Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, whose website indicates that the congregation serves 157 families.
The synagogue, established in 1999 with 25 member families, was the first Jewish congregation in northeast Tarrant County, according to the CBI website. The CBI community officially opened the doors to its new building in 2005.
The CBI holds Sabbat morning services every Saturday, and members and non-members alike can watch from home on the live stream, a practice many synagogues have adopted in the wake of the pandemic.
What we know about the live broadcast in the synagogue
CNN’s Ed Lavandera spoke with a member of Congregation Beth Israel who was watching the Facebook live stream on Saturday and said she was “terrified and heartbroken” to feel all of this happening on the live stream.
Stacey Silverman claimed to have watched the live broadcast for over an hour, hearing the suspect rant and rave at times switching between saying “I’m not a criminal” and apologizing for the situation. The suspect was switching between languages and “screaming hysterically.”
Due to the pandemic, the vast majority of people have not attended services in person, Silverman said, who also noted that the vast majority of synagogue members have been watching the events online.
The suspect also reportedly talked over and over about how much he hates Jews and that’s why he was there, Silverman said.
“At any moment, I thought there was going to be a shot,” Silverman said, adding that the suspect claimed to have a bomb.
Silverman said the Congregation Beth Israel rabbi has taken steps to try to build bridges with the local Muslim community in northeast Tarrant County, where the synagogue is located.
One of the leaders of a local mosque told Lavandera that they were “horrified” by what happened and condemned the suspect’s actions.
Silverman has been a member of Congregation Beth Israel for 13 years.
Who is Afia Siddiqui?
In 2010, Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a federal judge in New York after a 14-day trial. A jury found her guilty of attempted murder of US citizens and government employees, as well as assaulting US officials and employees.
According to a federal indictment, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a Ph.D. from Brandeis University, was detained for questioning by the Afghan National Police in 2008, saying she found notes written to hand that referred to possible targets of an “attack with heavy casualties”.
When a group of Americans tried to talk to her, prosecutors said she managed to grab a US soldier’s rifle and opened fire on the interrogation team, though no one was injured by the shots. At trial, one of the men in the courtroom testified that she was “a vision of hate,” according to court records.
In sentencing, the judge found that a terrorism enhancement applied to his crimes, citing statements he had made that the judge concluded demonstrated his actions and intent to retaliate against the United States government, including “I hate Americans” and “Death to America”.
Aafia Siddiqui’s defense was incompetent to stand trial, but Siddiqui repeatedly clashed with her defenders, telling the judge at sentencing, “If anyone thinks it’s my paranoia or whatever, I’m not paranoid. I am not mentally ill. I don’t agree with that.” He also expressed his belief that Israel “organized 9/11.”
His conviction has been the subject of regular protests in the US and abroad. The Aafia Foundation, a group that bears her name, has organized frequent demonstrations. That group has claimed that she was assaulted in prison last year. Her family has said in interviews with CNN that she is not a terrorist. CNN has reached out to Siddiqui’s attorneys for their reaction to the hostage situation.
During a deadly hostage crisis in Algeria in 2013, a spokesman for a militant group offered to release the hostages if Aafia Siddiqui was released from US prison, along with the mastermind behind the 1993 World Center Attack, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who has since died in prison.
Siddiqui is currently being held in a medical facility that is part of a federal prison in Fort Worth, with a release date set for 60 years.
With information from Melissa Alonso and Shimon Prokupecz.