Remarks by Director Christopher Wray to Anti-Defamation League on Hostage Incident in Colleyville, Texas
Remarks as delivered.
Thank you, Jonathan. And thank you for that kind introduction. It’s great to see you again, even if only virtually.
We are all, needless to say, extremely grateful that things ended peacefully Saturday night and that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the other three hostages were not physically harmed.
We’re also, of course, thankful for, and want to recognize, the hundreds of law enforcement personnel, as you said, across the state of Texas and elsewhere for their hard work and perseverance.
It was, in my view, really, the strength of these partnerships—federal, state, local, and community—and the ability to share information in real time, along with some awfully quick thinking and brave action, that helped end Saturday’s hostage situation with no victims’ lives lost.
That said, we understand all too well that these kinds of attacks are terrifying. And that they’re not only terrifying to the individuals directly and physically involved, they’re also terrifying to all the members of Congregation Beth Israel and really to the entire Jewish community, many of whom understandably worry about other threats still out there.
And while there are a lot of unknowns, in terms of details, in this particular matter that we’re drilling into, you can be confident that we at the FBI are committed to thoroughly and aggressively and rigorously investigating Saturday’s attack.
We also have and had victim specialists who were engaged with members of Congregation Beth Israel from the beginning of this horrific incident to offer any assistance they could.
Now let me be clear and blunt, the FBI is, and has been, treating Saturday’s events as an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community. Within a matter of hours, we deployed FBI SWAT, two highly trained units from our elite Hostage Rescue Team; those are the folks who ultimately were the ones who went into the synagogue, along with canines.
We had our crisis negotiation unit. We had one of our folks on the phone with the hostage taker for hours and hours, and that turned out to be pretty important.
We had our crisis management unit, our counter-IED unit. You may remember that for a good part of Saturday we were concerned that the suspect had one or more bombs in his possession.
So those folks and others, there were a total of about 60 flown in quickly from our Critical Incident Response Group in Quantico, on the ground working with our terrific partners in state and local law enforcement to bring the situation to a safe resolution for the hostages.
And we are not finished.
Our Joint Terrorism Task Forces all across the country will continue to investigate why this individual specifically targeted Congregation Beth Israel on their day of worship.
The FBI Lab is actively processing evidence related to the events. Our Operational Technology Division is analyzing and reviewing phones and other electronic devices and media. And there’s a lot more work to be done, and we’re committed to seeing this all the way through.
This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional; it was symbolic, and we’re not going to tolerate anti-Semitism in this country.
We recognize that the Jewish community, in particular, has suffered violence and faces very real threats from really across the hate spectrum.
Homegrown violent extremists, radicalized by Jihadist movements online, foreign terrorists organizations like ISIS and Hezbollah, state-sponsored groups like the IRGC from Iran, and of course, domestic violent extremists, especially racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists.
All of them have expressed an intent and acted to do harm to the Jewish community, both here at home and abroad. And it’s because of that that we consider the enduring threats to the Jewish community to be among our very highest priorities.
No member of a faith-based community should have to worry about acts of violence at their services.
To be targeted at your place of worship, a space meant to be a sanctuary in every sense of the word, is, in my view, one of the most heinous acts of violence that can be committed.
And unfortunately, we’ve seen these types of attacks play out far, far too often at synagogues and other houses of worship across the country.
It’s why I have, for some time now, set the expectation that leadership in all 56 of the FBI’s field office should be working in their areas with faith communities to build trusted relationships, to maintain open dialogue, and share information with the folks who need it most. And it’s imperative that we establish and build those relationships before a crisis strikes.
As the situation last weekend showed, it’s those partnerships, training, awareness, and preparation that can make all the difference.
You know there’s a saying that the best time to patch the roof is when the sun is shining, before the storm.
And we don’t want to be meeting for the first time in the wake of a tragedy. So, I encourage all of you to be continuing to educate yourselves and each other and your members about how to recognize suspicious activity and to be ready and willing to report it.
In the meantime, we’re going to keep digging to get more answers for Congregation Beth Israel, for the Colleyville community, and for the Jewish community as a whole. I know it’s disheartening to see that these kinds of attacks continue to happen and that there are people out there who target members of the Jewish faith.
But you can be confident that we in the FBI stand with you. And it is my hope that you will continue to see us as a trusted partner and as a valued resource, as we work together in our collective fight against violent extremism.
We are committed to working with the ADL, listening to your concerns, and doing everything we can to help and protect the Jewish community.
So thank you, Jonathan, and thank you to the ADL for your partnership.