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Two Killed at Muhammad Art Contest in Texas, ISIS Claiming Responsibility

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Clockwise from top: an security officer informs guests at the “Draw Muhammad” event that an incident has occurred; Garland police spokesperson Joe Harn talks to the media; and the car of the suspects that were killed. (various screenshots from The United West and CNN)

Last night, two men were killed and one man was injured at the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s (AFDI) “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” in the Dallas/Forth Worth area. Police said the episode lasted roughly 15 seconds and took place 10 minutes before the conclusion of the event at the Curtis Curwell Convention Center in Garland, Texas.

The identity of the two gunmen that were killed, who reputedly had AK-47s, is unknown, but the man who was injured was a Garland school district officer, who has already been released from the hospital for his injuries. The two gunmen burst onto the scene and started shooting, hitting a Garland officer in the leg. The two men were then killed when police returned fire.

The poster for the Muhammad Art competition mimics Norman Rockwell's famous self-portrait. (via Breitbart)
The poster for the Muhammad Art competition mimics Norman Rockwell’s famous self-portrait. (via Breitbart)

The reputedly sold-out event was organized by a group that is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “active anti-Muslim group.” In the summer of 2011, Robert Steinback, writing for SPLC’s publication, characterized AFDI and their co-founder Pamela Geller as part of the “anti-Muslim inner circle” in the United States. According to Steinback, Geller is a “self-styled expert on Islam with no formal training in the field,” and she “has seized the role of the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and influential figurehead. Her strengths are panache and vivid rhetorical flourishes — not to mention stunts like posing for an anti-Muslim video in a bikini — but she also can be coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam.”

The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest, which organizers say generated more than 350 entries and was attended by 200 people, featured a grand prize of $10,000, and a “people’s choice award” of $2,500 prize.

The event had already generated controversy before the shootings, particularly after it was announced that infamous Dutch politician Geert Wilders would be speaking at the event, who critics say is Islamophobic. The school district that owns the building had posted extra security at the venue, and the city of Garland had a SWAT team in the area.

Many Muslims see the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous, even though there is evidence that he has been depicted, particularly in a non-religious context, by various sects of Islam over the centuries.

A view of the convention center hall with "Draw Muhammad" submissions on tripods. (via The United West YouTube channel)
A view of the convention center hall with “Draw Muhammad” submissions on tripods. (via The United West YouTube channel)

The event’s poster is a spoof of US artist Norman Rockwell’s well-known self-portrait, and the representation of Muhammad is surrounded by various controversial images of the Muslim prophet, including one of the Danish cartoons that ignited global protests in 2005 and the Charlie Hebdo cover that followed the deadly attack by Islamists that killed 12 in January.

Writing about his experience at the event for The Daily Beast, Randy R. Potts explained:

Bosch Fawstin being interviewed by The Flipside last year (via The Flipside's YouTube channel)
Bosch Fawstin being interviewed by The Flipside last year (via The Flipside’s YouTube channel)

It was left to Geller and Freedom Defense Initiative co-founder Robert Spencer to announce the contest winner, Bosch Fawstin, who was raised Muslim but now says he worships at the church of Ayn Rand. The platinum-blond Fawstin talked about growing up Muslim and his realization it wasn’t for him. He talked about the new comic he’s working on, a superhero dressed in pigskin, practicing “pigotry.” Muslim mistreatment of gays, he said, is another reason he draws Muhammad. “You tell me I cannot draw Mohammad,” he said. “I will draw Mohammad!”

Both prizes, totalling $12,500, went to ex-Muslim Albanian-American cartoonist Bosch Fawstin for his drawing of Muhammad. Fawstin was interviewed late last year by Frontpage Magazine, and when he asked if there is such a thing as moderate Islam, he said: “No. There is only Islam. Islam is immoderate by nature.” Fawstin was also the subject of a 2011 segment on The Daily Show with Aasif Mandvi, which made fun of his concern over Batman’s Muslim sidekick Nightrunner.

A livestream of the Garland event on the organizer’s website recorded the moment when the event was interrupted by a private security guard in military fatigues.

Update, May 4, 2015, 10:00am ET: The Curtis Culwell Center release the following short statement that covers the chronology of events:

Incident at Curtis Culwell Center 

Earlier this evening, during an event at the Curtis Culwell Center, two men exited a vehicle and began shooting at Garland ISD Security Officer Bruce Joiner. Garland Police, who were on scene, returned fire at the two men, killing both. Officer Joiner was shot in the ankle. He was transported to a local hospital, treated and released. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

Garland Police have secured the area around the Cuwlell Center and Naaman Forest High School. The district is working with Garland PD and will keep you informed as information becomes available.

Update, May 4, 2015, 11:20am ET: The New York Times is reporting one of the gunmen has been ID’d as Elton Simpson, and the newspaper explained his background related to “violent jihad”:

In 2010, federal prosecutors in Arizona charged Mr. Simpson with plotting to travel to Somalia “for the purpose of engaging in violent jihad,” and then lying to a federal agent about his plans. A judge found him guilty of lying to the agent, but said the government had not proved that his plan involved terrorism, and sentenced him to three years’ probation.

The police and F.B.I. agents in Phoenix searched an apartment believed to be connected to Mr. Simpson, with much of the Autumn Ridge apartment complex cordoned off through the night. At the same time, the F.B.I. office in Dallas confirmed that it was providing investigators and a bomb technician to aid the police in Garland, a city just outside Dallas.

Officials did not give a motive for the attack Sunday evening, but drawings of Muhammad, considered offensive by many Muslims, have drawn violent responses in the past. Shortly before the shooting, messages were posted on Twitter with the hashtag #texasattack, including one saying, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.”

Update, May 4, 2:01pm ET: CNN is reporting that Simpson may be connected to ISIS:

The man, identified by a federal law enforcement source as Elton Simpson, apparently posted a tweet before the attack that read, in part, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.”

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.

Update May 4, 11:54pm ET: The Independent has identified the second man killed at the Garland event as Nadir Soofi of Phoenix, Arizona. His grandmother told NBC News that she’s shocked and that he is a “good boy.”

Update May 5, 8:30am ET: ISIS is claiming responsibility for the Texas attack. According to NBC News:

Charlie Winter, an NBC News counter-terrorism consultant, confirmed that ISIS said in an official radio broadcast Tuesday that two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack in Garland, Texas.

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