A man who was shot dead by FBI officers after taking four people hostage at a Texas synagogue is understood to be British.
The man began a standoff with police after disrupting a religious service at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan are, and taking hostages including the rabbi. He released one hostage unharmed after six hours.
More than 10 hours after the siege began, members of the FBI’s hostage rescue team stormed the synagogue to free the three remaining hostages. They were said to be “alive and well” after the siege had been brought to an end.
Reports suggested that a live stream of the Shabbat service, available on Facebook during the standoff until it was cut off at 2pm local time, captured audio of a man talking in an English accent.
On Sunday, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson said: “We are aware of the death of a British man in Texas and are in contact with the local authorities.”
The police department said it first sent in Swat teams at the synagogue in response to emergency calls beginning at about 10.40am. The FBI made contact with the man who said he wanted to speak to a woman held in a federal prison.
Video from Dallas TV station WFAA shows people running out a door of the synagogue, and then a man holding a gun opening the same door just seconds later, before he turns around and closes the door. Moments later, several rounds of gunfire can be heard, followed by the sound of an explosion.
FBI special agent in charge Matt DeSarno said the hostage taker was specifically focused on an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community, and there was no immediate indication that the man was part of any broader plan. But DeSarno said the agency’s investigation “will have global reach”.
In the live stream, the hostage-taker was heard demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to al-Qaida, who was convicted of trying to kill US military officers while in custody in Afghanistan, a law enforcement official said. Siddiqui is in federal prison in Texas.
Multiple people heard the hostage-taker refer to Siddiqui as his “sister” on the livestream, but John Floyd, board chair for the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group – said Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammad Siddiqui, was not involved.
The man could be heard saying repeatedly he did not want to see anyone hurt and that he believed he was going to die, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
In a statement issued on Saturday evening, US president Joe Biden praised the “courageous work” of law enforcement officials who responded to the scene and took part in the rescue. The White House sent “love and strength” to the synagogue’s worshippers and to members of the Jewish community.
“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker,” Biden said. “But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate – we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”
Colleyville, a community of about 26,000 people, is about 15 miles (23 km) north-east of Fort Worth. The synagogue is nestled among large houses in a leafy residential neighborhood. Congregation Beth Israel is led by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who has been there since 2006 as the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi.
Anna Salton Eisen, a founder and former president of the synagogue, said the congregation has about 140 members and Cytron-Walker has worked hard to build interfaith relationships in the community, including doing pulpit swaps and participating in a community peace walk.
“This is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. You know, it’s a small town and it’s a small congregation,” Eisen said as the hostage situation was ongoing. “No matter how it turns out it’s hard to fathom how we will all be changed by this, because surely we will be.”
Associated Press contributed to this report