All four people who were held hostage at a synagogue in the US state of Texas have been safely released, more than 10 hours after a gunman disrupted a religious service and began a tense standoff with police.
Members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team stormed the Congregation Beth Israel on Saturday evening to free remaining hostages after one captive was released unharmed earlier in the day.
Local reporters said they heard the sound of explosions and gunfire, shortly before Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced the crisis was over.
“Prayers answered. All hostages are out alive and safe,” Abbott said on Twitter.
Colleyville Police Chief Michael Miller said the gunman had died, but authorities declined to confirm the cause of his death.
The FBI said they had established the gunman’s identity but said they would not disclose it.
The incident was first reported to the Colleyville Police Department at 10:41am local time (16:41 GMT) on Saturday, during the Shabbat service, which was being broadcast online.
The police deployed SWAT teams and evacuated residents of the area.
Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press news agency earlier in the day the gunman had initially taken four people hostage. They spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation.
One of the officials said the synagogue’s rabbi was believed to be among the hostages.
One hostage was released unharmed six hours later.
The officials said the hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in prison on charges that she assaulted and shot at US military officers after being detained in Afghanistan.
The punishment had sparked outrage in Pakistan among political leaders and her supporters, who viewed her as victimised by the American criminal justice system. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
The officials told AP that the hostage-taker also said he wanted to be able to speak with Siddiqui.
ABC News, citing an official briefed on the matter, had previously said the hostage-taker was claiming to be Siddiqui’s brother.
Earlier, Katie Chaumont, spokeswoman for FBI Dallas, had said an FBI SWAT team was at the scene and that crisis negotiators had been communicating with someone inside the synagogue. But she could not say whether the person was armed, and she had declined to describe what the person said to authorities, citing operational sensitivity.
The synagogue’s services were being livestreamed on its Facebook page for a time. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that an angry man could be heard ranting and talking about religion at times during the livestream, which did not show what was happening inside the synagogue.
The man could be heard repeatedly saying he did not want to see anyone hurt and that he believed he was going to die, the newspaper said.
Barry Klompus, a member of the congregation since it opened in 1999, told the Reuters news agency that he tuned into the livestream.
“It was horrible listening and watching, and it’s that much more horrible not knowing,” Klompus said in a telephone interview.
Though he was not able to clearly understand what the man wanted, Klompus believes the man wanted to talk to his “sister”.
But Faizan Syed, the executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Dallas Fort-Worth Texas, told AP that Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved. Syed said CAIR’s support and prayers were with the people being held in the synagogue.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Saturday evening that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the “developing hostage situation” and was receiving updates from senior officials.
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.
The president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, said on Twitter the union was “very grateful to law enforcement who are working to free the hostages”.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, said it was aware of the standoff, and CAIR issued a statement condemning the man’s actions.
“This latest antisemitic attack on Jewish Americans worshipping at a synagogue is an act of pure evil,” CAIR said. “We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, and we pray that law enforcement authorities are able to swiftly and safely free the hostages. No cause can justify or excuse this crime.”