Two Suspects Killed After Attempted Shooting Outside "Draw Muhammad" Art Event in Texas
Two men were shot and killed after opening fire outside of the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, Sunday evening during the "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest" being held inside the facility, NBC News reports.
Police on the scene killed the two men in their car after they opened fire on the convention center. Police suspect the men were trying to detonate what police suspect was a bomb in their car. Surrounding businesses were evacuated while a bomb squad was called in.
Federal law enforcement agents told CNN one of the two men was Elton Simpson, who was convicted of other terrorism related activities in 2011 and tweeted hours before the attack on his since-suspended account: "The bro with me and myself have given bay'ah to Amirul Mu'mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua #texasattack."
Simpson was convicted of "making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism and sentenced to three years of probation," reports CNN.
The second shooter was later identified as Nadir Soofi, Simpson's roommate.
According to the City of Garland's Facebook page, "As [Sunday's] Muhammad Art Exhibit event at the Curtis Culwell Center was coming to an end, two males drove up to the front of the building in a car. Both males were armed and began shooting at a Garland ISD security officer. The GISD security officer's injuries are not life-threatening. Garland Police officers engaged the gunmen, who were both shot and killed."
The two gunman hit a security guard with a non-life-threatening shot in the lower leg; he was released from the hospital after treatment, reports the Dallas Morning News. Jobin Panicker, a WFAA reporter from Dallas, was on the scene and reported on twitter the shooting is believed to have been a "direct attack."
After the shooting, event-goers were held under orders from a SWAT team, which locked down the convention center. The Associated Press reports officers moved around 75 attendees to another room in the convention center before eventually escorting a group of 48 to a school bus to move them away from the premises.
The event, which was being held by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (also known as Stop Islamization of America), was being described as a "free speech event" and was being held to announce the winner of a $10,000 art contest for the best depiction of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, drawings of whom are considered blasphemous. According to the event's organizers, over 350 submissions were sent in from around the world, reports CNN.
In preparation for the event, the AFDI spent an extra $10,000 on security, the Dallas Morning News reported in the lead up to the controversial event. That $10,000 didn't include the costs of the private security group that was being hired additionally.
Opponents had been attacking both the event and its organizers in the lead-up tot Sunday's art show, calling it an attack on Islam. The AFDI responded saying they "were simply exercising their right of expression," the Dallas Morning News reported, and Pamela Geller, the group's president, noted the extra $10,000 on security was "the high cost of freedom."
Geller and the AFDI were in the news late last month after winning a decision in New York court allowing them to display racially and religiously charged ads in New York subways and buses.
Shortly after the incident, Geller took to her own website, writing in response to the shooting, "This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters? [...] The war is here."
Updated: May 4, 2015 11:12 a.m.