Hostage negotiators were locked in a tense standoff Saturday at a Texas synagogue where a man apparently demanding the release of a convicted terrorist had reportedly taken a rabbi and several others captive, police and media said.
US President Joe Biden has been briefed “on the developing hostage situation” in Colleyville, some 40km west of Dallas, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter.
ABC News, citing an unidentified source, said the suspect had taken a rabbi and at least three others hostage at the Congregation Beth Israel.
The network reported that the hostage-taker was armed and had claimed to have bombs in unknown locations.
Quoting a US official briefed on the matter, ABC reported the man was claiming to be the brother of Aafia Siddiqui – who has been dubbed “Lady Qaeda” by US tabloids – and was demanding to have his sister freed from prison.
Siddiqui, a former Pakistani scientist, was in 2010 sentenced by a New York court to 86 years in prison for attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan. The high-profile case sparked outrage in Pakistan.
Siddiqui is currently being held at Federal Medical Center (FMC) prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
Other experts said, however, that the word the man used in Arabic was more figurative and meant “sister” in the Islamic faith.
A live stream of the congregation’s Shabbat morning service on Facebook appeared to capture audio of a man talking loudly – although it did not show the scene inside the building.
In it, he could be heard saying, “You get my sister on the phone,” and “I am gonna die.”
He was also heard saying: “There’s something wrong with America.”
The stream began at 10am (1600 GMT) and stopped broadcasting just before 2pm.
The Colleyville police department said in a tweet at 11.30am (1730 GMT) that it was “conducting SWAT operations” at the address of the Congregation Beth Israel.
In an update two hours later, the department said the situation “remains ongoing.”
“We ask that you continue to avoid the area. We will continue to provide updates via social media,” it said.
At 2.20pm and 3.20pm, it said the situation was unchanged.
FBI agents were also on the scene, according to video footage carried by CNN.
CNN and other news outlets reported that FBI hostage negotiators had taken over the situation and made contact with the man.
Texas governor Greg Abbott described the situation as “tense” on Twitter.
The Dallas Morning News said it was unclear how many people were inside the building when the crisis began, citing Colleyville police sergeant Dara Nelson.
She added that no injuries had been reported inside the synagogue.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was “closely monitoring” the hostage situation.
“We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers,” he wrote on Twitter.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted that the Israeli consul in Houston was on her way to the scene.
Texas congressman Colin Allred sent a message of support, saying he was “praying for the congregants in Colleyville.”
“No one should have to fear something like this may happen in their place of worship,” he tweeted.
The police department and city government did not immediately respond to requests for information from AFP.
Dallas mayor Eric Johnson said the city’s police force was deploying additional patrols to Dallas synagogues and other sites.