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FBI assisting in hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas

Jan 15, 2022, 2:35 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:21 pm
The FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety are assisting a hostage situation at the Congregation...
The FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety are assisting a hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, according to Colleyville Police Sgt Dara Nelson. (KTVT via CNN)
(KTVT via CNN)

(CNN) — The FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety are assisting a hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, according to Colleyville Police Sgt. Dara Nelson.

A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN there are believed to be at least four hostages, including a rabbi.

There are no injuries at this time, Nelson said, 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.

Two law enforcement officials told CNN that investigators believe the hostage taker may have been motivated by a desire to free Aafia Sidiqqui, who is serving an 86-year sentence at a facility in Texas. She was convicted in 2010 on seven charges, including attempted murder and armed assault on US officers in Afghanistan.

That assessment is based on both discussions with the suspect and audio heard on the synagogue’s livestream on Facebook, the officials said.

CNN has reached out to lawyers for Siddiqui for reaction to the hostage situation.

The livestream appeared to capture part of the incident before it was removed. Law enforcement officials told CNN they reviewed the stream and are using it to gather clues on the incident and the individuals involved.

Police are asking people to avoid the area.

“We are currently conducting SWAT operations around the 6100 block of Pleasant Run Rd,” the Colleyville Police Department said. “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,” the police said.

Colleyville is located about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth.

Congregation Beth Israel is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, whose website indicates the congregation serves 157 membership families.

The synagogue, established in 1999 with 25 membership families, was the first Jewish congregation in Northeast Tarrant County, according to CBI’s website. The CBI community officially opened its doors to its own new building in 2005.

CBI holds Sabbath morning services every Saturday, and members and non-members alike are welcome to watch along from home on the livestream, a practice many synagogues have adopted in the wake of the pandemic.

Who is Aafia Sidiqqui?

In 2010, Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a New York federal judge following a 14-day trial. A jury found her guilty of the attempted murder of US nationals and government employees, as well as assault against US officers and employees.

Siddiqui — a Pakistani scientist who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and obtained a doctorate from Brandeis University — was taken into custody for questioning by the Afghan National Police in 2008, who said they found handwritten notes referring to potential targets of a “mass casualty attack,” according to a federal indictment.

When a group of Americans attempted to speak to her, prosecutors said she was able to grab a US soldier’s rifle and open fire on the interrogation team, although no one was hit by the gunfire.

At sentencing, the judge found that a terrorism enhancement applied to her crimes, citing statements she had made that the judge concluded demonstrated her actions and intent to retaliate against the US government, including “I hate Americans” and “Death to America.”

Siddiqui’s defense argued she was incompetent to stand trial. But Siddiqui clashed repeatedly with her lawyers, telling the judge at sentencing, “If anybody thinks that it is my paranoia or whatever, I’m not paranoid. I’m not mentally sick. I do not agree with that.” She also stated her belief that Israel “masterminded 9/11.”

Her conviction has been the subject of regular protests in the US and overseas. Frequent demonstrations have been organized by the Aafia Foundation, a group named for her. 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.

During a deadly hostage crisis in Algeria in 2013, a spokesperson for a militant group offered to release hostages if Aafia Siddiqui was released from US prison, along with Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, who has since died in prison.

Siddiqui is being held in a medical facility that’s part of a federal prison in Fort Worth, with a release date set for 60 years from now.

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FBI assisting in hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas