This is a developing story.
(JTA) — A man is holding a rabbi and several congregants hostage at a synagogue in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. The hostage situation unfolded during Shabbat services, which the synagogue was live-streaming on Facebook.
The man is holding Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and at least three congregants hostage at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, a suburb north of Fort Worth, news outlets are reporting.
The FBI is on the scene as well as local police. The White House is also “monitoring” the situation, per reports. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also said in a tweet that he was “closely monitoring” the situation.
In an alert, Secure Community Network, which consults with national and local Jewish organizations, said the man was reportedly armed and making bomb threats.
“We’re not aware of any direct credible threats to any other synagogues,” Michael Masters, who directs SCN, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
According to ABC, the man claims his sister is Aafia Siddiqui, a relative by marriage of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Aafia Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence in the Fort Worth area for attempting to kill American military personnel after she was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 on suspicion of plotting attacks in New York.
At 11:30 a.m. local time, police said they were conducting SWAT operations around the building. A man could be heard yelling on the live stream, talking about his children, his sister and Islam, and saying he believes he is going to die. Police have established phone contact with the man. At 2 p.m. local time, the live stream went down.
“This highlights the need for all of us to be aware and vigilant and most importantly to keep the individuals in the synagogue in our thoughts and prayers and hope for a peaceful resolution,” Masters told JTA.
Jessika Harkay, a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, shared a number of quotes from the livestream in a series of tweets.
“Don’t cry on the f**king phone with me,” a man says at one point. “Don’t f**king cry on me. I have six beautiful kids … There are hostages in the synagogue who are going to die. … What are you crying for?”
“I’m going to die, are you listening?” the man says, repeatedly. “I’m going to die doing this all right? Are you listening? I’m going to die. Don’t cry about me.”
According to Beth Israel’s website, Cytron-Walker is the congregation’s first full-time rabbi and has been with the congregation since 2006. A native of Lansing, Michigan, Cytron-Walker and his wife have two daughters.
The synagogue is in the process of hiring a rabbi, according to its online calendar.
Cytron-Walker served as a past president of the South West Association of Reform Rabbis and received an award from QESHET: A Network of LGBT Reform Rabbis. Before becoming a rabbi, he worked for a human rights organization in Detroit as well as a soup kitchen in Amherst, Massachusetts. PJC