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Monday, May 4, 2015

Pro-Free Speech Convention In Texas Fired On By Two Muslims

Garland, Texas, shooting suspect linked himself to ISIS in tweets

Story highlights

  •  Officials identify the second suspect as Nadir Soofi
  • A traffic officer, armed with a pistol, shoots and kills two men carrying rifles and wearing body armor
  • In a tweet before the attack, suspect Elton Simpson apparently linked himself to ISIS
(CNN)A day after police killed two 
gunmen who tried to ambush a Garland,
 Texas, event featuring controversial 
cartoons of the Muslim Prophet 
Mohammed, details began to emerge 
about the shooters.
One suspect, identified as Elton 
Simpson by a federal law enforcement
 source, linked himself to ISIS in a
 tweet posted just before the attack.
He also was no stranger to federal investigators. In 2011, he was convicted of 
making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism.
The other suspect, identified as Nadir Soofi by two federal law enforcement 
officials, was Simpson's roommate in a Phoenix apartment.
He wasn't well-known to federal law enforcement and was not on the FBI's 
radar, one of the officials said. Investigators were combing through evidence
 retrieved from the shooters' Arizona home to help piece together a timeline 
of how their plot came together, the official said.
Simpson and Soofi never made it inside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, 
where in addition to the cartoon contest, a right-wing Dutch politician who's on 
an al Qaeda hit list was speaking Sunday evening.
    A traffic officer working after-hours as security for the event and armed only
     with a service pistol killed both men, who were wearing body armor and 
    carrying assault rifles, Garland Police Department spokesman Joe Harn told 
    reporters Monday.
    "He did what he was trained to do, and under the fire that he was put under, 
    he did a very good job. And probably saved lives," Harn said of the unidentified 
    officer. "We think their strategy was to get into the event center, and they were 
    not able to get past our perimeter that we had set up."
    An unarmed security officer working with the patrol officer was shot in the 
    ankle, police said. None of the approximately 200 people attending the event 
    was hurt.
    Harn declined to call the incident a terror attack, saying the motive was still 
    under investigation.
    "We don't know their intent, other than that they were willing to pull up and 
    shoot police," Harn said.
    Gunmen open fire at Mohammed cartoon event
    Gunmen open fire at Mohammed cartoon event 02:07

    Links to ISIS?

    Simpson apparently posted a 
    tweet before the attack that read, 
    in part, "May Allah accept us as 
    The tweet from Simpson also said
     he and his fellow attacker had
     pledged loyalty to "Amirul Mu'mineen" (the leader of the faithful), which CNN
     terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said probably refers to ISIS leader Abu 
    Bakr al Baghdadi.
    After the shooting, an ISIS propagandist that Simpson had earlier asked his 
    readers to follow tweeted, "Allahu Akbar!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire"
     at the Texas event.
    "If there is no check on the freedom of your speech, then let your hearts be 
    open to the freedom of our actions," tweeted the propagandist, who was
     identified by two American groups that monitor jihadi websites as Junaid 
    Hussain, a British ISIS fighter in Syria who goes by the name Abu Hussein 
    al Britani.
    Gunmen killed at Mohammed cartoon event
    Gunmen killed at Mohammed cartoon event 01:54
    In 2011, Simpson was convicted 
    of making a false statement involving
     international and domestic terrorism 
    and sentenced to three years of 
    probation, court records show.
     Prosecutors said he told FBI agents
     that he had not discussed traveling 
    to Somalia to engage in "violent jihad" when, in fact, he had, according to an 
    indictment reviewed by CNN.
    U.S. authorities are investigating whether Sunday's shooting has any link to
     international terrorism. Simpson's tweet could indicate the attack was inspired 
    by ISIS, but not orchestrated by the group, sources said.

    Similarities to attacks in Denmark, France

    The incident bears similarities to attacks this year on events in France and 
    Denmark featuring images of Mohammed, which some Muslims believe is 
    In January, gunmen attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French 
    satirical magazine that has a controversial history of depicting Mohammed, 
    and killed 12 people.
    The next month, a gunman attacked a free speech forum in Copenhagen
    Denmark, featuring cartoonist Lars Vilks, who infuriated al Qaeda with his 
    depictions of Mohammed.
    In the United States, cartoonist Molly Norris is still in hiding, four years after 
    she depicted the likeness of Mohammed on several items and was deemed 
    a "prime target" for execution by Islamic extremists.
    The Sunday night event in Garland invited cartoonists to send in caricatures 
    of Mohammed. It was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative 
    -- considered an anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center
    which tracks hate groups.
    The keynote speaker was right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who's 
    on an al Qaeda hit list.
    Organizers said they received more than 350 submissions for the event.
    The winning entry won $12,500. The black and white drawing shows a 
    cartoonist's hands sketching a sword-wielding Mohammed, who is shouting, 
    "You can't draw me!"
    A speech bubble coming from the hands depicts the cartoonist's response: 
    "That's why I draw you."
    "The Islamic jihadis are determined to suppress our freedom of speech 
    violently." Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense 
    Initiative, told CNN. "They struck in Paris and Copenhagen recently, and 
    now in Texas."
    Responding Monday to criticisms of her group as anti-Islamic, she said,
     "There is a problem inIslam, as illustrated last night, and anyone that 
    addresses it gets attacked in this same way."

    Exchange lasted seconds

    According to police, the men drove into the parking lot of the Curtis Culwell 
    Center about 6:50 p.m. (7:50 ET), just as the "Muhammad Art Exhibit and
     Cartoon Contest" inside was ending.
    The gunmen encountered a patrol car blocking the entrance, part of 
    $10,000 in extra security paid for by organizers of the event, said Harn, 
    the Garland Police Department spokesman. The American Freedom 
    Defense Initiative said it had spent more than $30,000 on security.
    As soon as the officers stepped out of the car to check the vehicle's 
    occupants, the two men left their vehicle and began firing, Harn said.
    Numerous spent shell casings littered the parking lot after the 15-second 
    firefight, he said.
    The unarmed security guard, Bruce Joiner, was shot in the ankle. He was
     later treated at a hospital and released, police said.
    A SWAT reaction team raced to the parking lot to back up the patrol 
    officer, and police inside the center shepherded audience members to 
    a more secure location inside the center's auditorium.
    "There was an incident outside," an officer told audience members.
     "Two suspects have been shot. Possibly have explosives on 'em, OK? 
    I just need everybody to remain calm, become orderly, and we're going
     to take you into the auditorium a little further away from the front of this 
    building. All right?"
    Someone asked, "Were the suspects Muslim?"
    "I have no idea right now," he responded.
    It turned out the suspects did not have explosives, Harn said.

    Heavy security for event

    The American Freedom Defense Initiative said it specifically picked the 
    venue, a school district-owned facility, because it hosted an event 
    denouncing Islamophobia in January.
    That event, "Stand with the Prophet," was meant to counter Islamophobia 
    after the Charlie Hebdo attack. It drew several hundred attendees and
     about 200 protesters, and went off without incident.
    Culwell Center Director John Wilborn told The Dallas Morning News that 

    the venue has yet to turn down an event because of content. The center is 
    owned by the school district and rented out for sporting events, concerts 
    and other gatherings.
    Security was tight. The district brought in extra officers, and the group 

    itself hired several more. Only those who purchased tickets ahead of time 
    were admitted. They had to go through metal detectors.
    "We were prepared for something like this," Harn said.
    Shortly after the Sunday night shooting, a prominent Muslim leader in
     Dallas tweeted about it.
    "The community stayed away from event," Imam Zia Sheikh wrote.
     "Seems like a lone wolf type of attack. Just what we didn't want."

    'A gentle person'

    Members of the mosque Simpson once regularly attended, the Islamic
     Community Center of Phoenix, are in shock about what happened, 
    said its president, Usama Shami.
    Simpson was a regular worshiper at the mosque until around 2010 or 
    2011, about the time the FBI arrested him on the false statement charges.
    During that time, he offered no signal that he held radical views, Shami said.
    "He was a gentle person," Shami said of Simpson. "He always had a 
    good attitude, a good demeanor."

    'Freedom of speech is under violent assault'

    Wilders, the Dutch politician who was the keynote speaker at the Garland 
    event, is controversial for his anti-Islam views. He was placed on the al 
    Qaeda hit list for his film "Fitna."
    The film, which Wilders released online in March 2008 to international 
    outcry, features disturbing images of terrorist acts superimposed over 
    verses from the Quran in an apparent attempt to paint Islam as a threat 
    to Western society.
    In 2011, Wilders was cleared of charges of inciting discrimination and 

    hatred with the movie.
    "The day we give away humor and freedom of speech is the day that we
     cease to exist as a free and independent people," he told the attendees 
    at the Garland event Sunday night.
    Likewise, the American Freedom Defense Initiative is known for its
     anti-Muslim stance.
    Geller, its president, is "the anti-Muslim movement's most visible and
     flamboyant figurehead," the SPLC says.
    "Who designated the SPLC as a legitimate authority? They are a radical
     leftist group who targets patriots, vets and even GOP presidential 
    candidates," she told CNN. "They have never named a jihadi group as 
    a hate group."
    A conservative blogger, she first gained national attention with her group,
     "Stop the Islamization of America," and its vocal opposition to an Islamic 
    community center planned near the site of New York's ground zero, 
    where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed by 
    Islamist hijackers on September 11, 2001.
    She said Sunday night that she wasn't expecting such an attack but
     wasn't surprised that it happened.
    "This incident shows how much needed our event really was. The freedom 
    of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now 
    before us: Will we stand and defend it or bow to violence, thuggery and 
    She said she plans on holding similar events.
    "I will not abridge my freedoms so as not to offend savages," she said.