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Texas synagogue hostages freed, Muslim terrorist dead

Hostages inside a Texas synagogue were rescued late Saturday evening after they had been held by a Muslim terrorist for nearly 12 hours.

Video from Dallas station WFAA shows congregants running out of the synagogue, and a man holding a gun near the opening of the same door just moments later. Loud bangs and rounds of gunfire can also be heard.

“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Saturday on Twitter.

Abbott’s post came moments after a loud bang and what sounded like gunfire was heard coming from the synagogue—Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, which is about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth.

Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller confirmed at a press conference late Saturday that the suspect was dead. “Around 9 p.m., the [hostage rescue team] breached the synagogue, they rescued the three hostages, the suspect is deceased.”

FBI crisis negotiators were trying to negotiate with the suspect, according to the local police department in Colleyville in a statement.

Later in the night, the department announced on Twitter, “Update at 9:55pm: The SWAT situation in Colleyville is resolved and all hostages are safe. We continue to work in partnership with the FBI to finalize all details.”

The situation started around 10:40 a.m. when police received a call to respond to an incident at the synagogue. “Officers arrived on scene and observed an emergency situation that warranted evacuation of the surrounding areas and an external perimeter was established,” the department said.

The beginning of the hostage situation was seen live on Facebook as the synagogue streams its services.  The terrorist, now identified as a Muslim British citizen, was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is currently serving an 86-year prison term in the United States, law enforcement officials told local media.

Siddiqui was convicted of trying to kill U.S. military officers while in custody in Afghanistan. Thousands took to the streets in Pakistan to protest against her conviction in 2010 and she has been praised by the President of Pakistan.

After the Islamic State (IS) group kidnapped American journalist James Foley in Syria in 2012, they emailed his family demanding the release of Siddiqui.

Shortly after 5 p.m. local time, a male hostage was “released uninjured” from the “major incident,” it said. “This man will be reunited with his family as soon as possible and he does not require medical attention. FBI Crisis Negotiators continue contact with the subject.”

On the Facebook livestream of Saturday’s service at the synagogue, a person could be heard ranting and talking about Islam at times, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The video did not show what was happening in the building.

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 Facebook company spokesperson later confirmed that Facebook had removed the video, reported The Associated Press.

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.

Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement saying that it was “no accident a synagogue was chosen for this attack.”

“We assume that U.S. authorities and experts are investigating all the ties and communications leading up to today’s outrage,” the statement reads. “We pray that Texas law enforcement and other agencies will continue to do whatever they can to gain the release of incidents. Meanwhile, once again synagogues and Jewish schools must again elevate their defensive measure not only against neo-Nazis but Islamist terrorism and all violent hate.”

–Dwight and Anita Widaman | Metro Voice