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Two Gunmen Killed in Texas 'Draw Muhammad' Contest Attack Identified

The "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest" was attacked by two men on Sunday, who were then shot dead by police. Searches have also been carried out for a suspected explosive device.

by Scott Mitchell
May 4 2015, 11:45am

Imagen por Nomaan Merchant/AP

Authorities have now identified the two gunmen killed during an attack Sunday at an exhibition of caricatures and drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in a Dallas suburb, and one of the two attackers previously faced charges over plans to carry out violent jihad abroad.

According to law enforcement officials, the two shooters opened fire on the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas and wounded a security guard on Sunday night, before police shot the gunmen dead. Hundreds of people were evacuated and searches were carried out for a suspected explosive device. 

Authorities today identified one of the shooters as Arizona resident Elton Simpson, 30, who had previously been the subject of a terror investigation. Overnight, FBI agents and a bomb squad were at the north Phoenix apartment complex where Simpson is believed to have resided. Simpson faced federal charges in 2010 for planning to travel to Somalia to carry out violent jihad, and for lying to federal officials about his plans. However, a judge gave him three years' probation after it was found that the government did not adequately prove he planned any sort of violent attacks.

The second individual killed on Sunday's attack was Simpson's 34-year-old roommate Nadir Soofi, police said Monday afternoon.

The incident started just before 7pm as the "cartoon contest," which had around 200 people in attendance, was coming to an end, according to reports. Some 40 additional police officers had been deployed to protect the event from any potential attack, at a cost of $10,000 to event organizers.

"Both males were armed and began shooting at a Garland ISD [Independent Schools District] security officer. The GISD security officer's injuries are not life-threatening," read a statement by the City of Garland. "Police suspect the vehicle may contain an incendiary device and the bomb squad is on the scene."

During Sunday's attack a security guard, Bruce Joiner, was shot in the ankle and has since been released from hospital after receiving treatment. Bomb specialists remained on the scene as neighboring businesses were evacuated. Joe Harn, a Garland police spokesman, explained, "It's a very slow, tedious operation that goes on."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also released a statement, saying, "This is a crime that was quickly ended thanks to the swift action of law enforcement."

The shooters' motives have yet to be identified by authorities. There has been wide speculation surrounding a pair of Twitter accounts, one bearing the name "Shariah is the Light," which is believed to belong to Simpson and has now been suspended.

The event in Garland was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and called the "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest." Over 350 depictions of the Islamic prophet were sent into the event from around the world, according to the group. 

A video, produced as a live stream of the event, captures the moment attendees learned of the shots fired outside.

The purpose of the exhibition, according to organizers, was to exercise free speech, particularly after the deadly attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January. In Islam, physical depictions of the Muhammad are considered blasphemous and in recent years cartoonists and artists have received death threats from radical Islamists for portraying the prophet in their work.

After the attack, Pamela Geller a co-founder of AFDI, took to her website with a series of statements. "The war is here," she wrote. "The war for free speech is a shooting war. Will the US fight or surrender?" Geller added that she believes the men were "clearly attempting a Charlie Hebdo-style jihad massacre in Garland, Texas." 

Related: Exclusive interview with 'Charlie Hebdo' cartoonist Luz. Watch here.

Geller rose to prominence as the leader of a campaign to stop an Islamic center being built two blocks from the World Trade Center site in New York in May 2010. After Sunday's shooting, she chastised the British Daily Mail newspaper for blacking out images of the cartoons that were exhibited in the paper's reporting on the attack.

"The cowardice of the enemedia has reached monstrous proportions," she wrote. "They will stop at nothing to appease bloodthirsty jihad terrorists. They are not journalists. They are water-carriers for the forces of oppression, hatred, and forcible censorship."

Geller, who has been accused of being an Islamphobe,  was last year banned from the US' biggest conservative conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). She subsequently accused the organization of "enforcing the Sharia [law]."

Gellar has also made allegations that several high-profile US politicians like President Barack Obama are operatives of Islamic groups. In 2010 she wrote, "Obama is a third worlder and a coward. He will do nothing but beat up on our friends to appease his Islamic overlords."

Sunday night's event was also attended by Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician and self-described hater of Islam. Wilders gave the keynote address at the event, and presented the winner of the contest with a check for $12,500.

"We are here in defiance of Islam," Wilders reportedly told people in attendance at the center. "Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one."

Imam Zia Sheikh, an imam with the Islamic community in Dallas, quickly condemned the attacks on social media writing: "Shots fired at Pamela Geller event. The community stayed away from event. Seems like a lone wolf type of attack. Just what we didn't want."

Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell

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