ISIS has claimed responsibility for the foiled attack Sunday on a Prophet Muhammad cartoon exhibit and competition in Garland, Texas, but local investigators are leaning toward a different conclusion.
“Two soldiers … of the caliphate attacked an exhibit in Garland in American Texas, and this exhibit was holding a contest for drawings offensive to the Prophet Muhammad,” an ISIS-controlled Syrian radio station announced Monday, according to The Washington Post. The statement also threatened “worse and more bitter” attacks but offered no indication of any actual connection between the two gunmen and ISIS.
Investigators are still going through the evidence and trying to piece together why Elton Simpson, 31, and Nadir Soofi, 34, drove from Phoenix, Arizona, to Garland and attempted to shoot their way into the Curtis Culwell Center, where the American Freedom Defense Initiative was holding an event celebrating cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The Dallas Morning News reports early indications point to a “homegrown jihad.”
Both gunmen were born in the United States and spent most of their lives here. Soofi, who had an 8-year-old son, ran a halal pizzeria in Phoenix that had recently closed; he and Simpson were partners in a carpet-cleaning business as well as roommates. Simpson had been on the FBI’s radar since 2006, when he was recorded talking to an informant about jihad. He was convicted in 2010 of lying to the FBI about a planned trip to Somalia, but the judge dropped a terrorism charge, saying there was no evidence he was actually planning to engage in terrorism. Simpson was sentenced to three years’ probation and placed on the no-fly list.
The recordings do show that Simpson talked about being a warrior and fighting for his religion, but the only actual link with ISIS that has turned up is on Twitter: Shortly before the attack, CNN reports, a tweet from Simpson’s account claimed he and his companion were loyal to “Amirul Mu’mineen” (likely an ISIS leader) and asked his followers to follow an ISIS-linked account. Shortly after the attack, that account tweeted, “Allahu Akbar!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire.”
Leaders of the local Muslim community denounced the attack and cautioned their members against being “baited” into reacting to events such as the exhibit.
AFDI President Pam Gellar said the incident illustrated the need for more events such as the one on Sunday. And artist Bosch Fawstin, who drew the winning cartoon, tweeted, “They came to kill us and died for it. Justice. #GarlandAttack.”
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