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Texas governor says all hostages safe after stand-off in synagogue

The governor of Texas said that all of the people held hostage inside a synagogue near Dallas had been released unharmed following an hours-long stand-off involving the FBI and local police forces.

“Prayers answered”, Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter late on Saturday.

Federal agents and local law enforcement had been locked in what Abbot had described as a “tense hostage situation” at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, a city about 25 miles.

Police had evacuated the area around the synagogue after being called to an “emergency situation” at about 11am, after the suspected hostage taker interrupted a worship service that was being livestreamed on Facebook.

At least four hostages, including the synagogue’s rabbi, had been held inside, according to the Associated Press. One male hostage had been released unharmed shortly after 5pm, local authorities had said.

Local media at the scene reported a loud bang and rapid bursts of gunfire shortly before Abbott declared that the hostages had been released safely.

Colleyville police confirmed that a SWAT situation was “resolved” and that all of the hostages were safe. The suspected hostage taker was killed, Colleyville police chief Michael Miller told a press conference.

Authorities did not release the suspect’s identity or confirm whether he had been armed.

The AP and local news media reported that the suspect could be heard on the livestream demanding the release of a woman that law enforcement officials said was Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda.

Siddiqui was convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, and is serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison in Texas.

FBI crisis negotiators had been in communication with the suspect, but police provided few details other than to say that no injuries had been reported.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said earlier President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation and would “continue to receive updates from his senior team as the situation develops.”

“Senior members of the national security team are also in touch with federal law enforcement leadership,” Psaki added.

The US Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying that Alejandro Mayorkas, the US secretary of homeland security, had also been briefed on the developments and that the department was “coordinating with our federal, state, local and community partners”.

Naftali Bennett, prime minister of Israel, wrote on Twitter that he was “closely monitoring” the situation at the Texas synagogue, adding: “We pray for the safety of the hostages and rescuers.”

Many US authorities increased security at Jewish places of worship after an anti-Semitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 2018. A lone gunman killed 11 people and wounded six in that attack.

Dallas mayor Eric Johnson said the city’s police department was deploying additional officers to local synagogues “as a precaution”.

“Police are working with the Jewish Federation and our local, state, and federal partners to monitor any concerns or threats based on the situation in Colleyville,” he added.

“We are ever thankful for the efforts of the FBI, state and local law enforcement to bring about a safe resolution to this terrifying [attack],” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil-rights group.

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