Sunday evening, May 3rd, just past 7 p.m., shots rang out just outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. Inside the building the inaugural $10,000 Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest hosted by human rights and free-speech activist Pamela Geller and her organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) was coming to an end. Geert Wilders, a member of The Netherlands Parliament, who led the fight for de-Islamization in his country, was the keynote speaker for the event. He is reportedly on an al Qaeda “hit list” for wanting to ban the Qur’an in the Netherlands.
The event itself had drawn criticism due to its blatant disregard for Muslim beliefs regarding visual depictions of Muhammad, although such beliefs are not universal among all Muslims. The event, billed as a art exhibit / free speech event, clearly meant to pit the religious beliefs of Muslims against the constitutional rights of Americans, much the same way art in the past has placed Christians in the uncomfortable spot of having religious icons defaced in the name of free speech having things such as a crucifix in a jar of urine deemed art and free speech, freedom of expression. However, unlike Christianity or other religions defamed in the name of free speech or art, there have been numerous retaliatory attacks and murders over cartoon caricatures of Muhammad in the past, such as the recent Charlie Hebdo slayings. This attack bore similarities to other attacks this year on events in France and Denmark featuring images of Muhammad, which some Muslims believe is blasphemous.
Two men, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi from Phoenix AZ, arrived at the Curtis Culwell Center and opened fire with AK-47s. Sources close to the Garland PD have informed NoozSaurus that the two were well prepared, equipped with 75 round drum magazines as well as additional ammunition. Due to the sensitive nature of the event and the expectation of protests, additional security including SWAT was on scene. Literally within seconds of the first shots being fired, the venue went on lock down and an officer engaged the suspects. A traffic officer working after-hours as security for the event and armed only with a service pistol killed both men, Garland Police Department spokesman Joe Harn told reporters Monday. Bruce Joyner, an unarmed security officer working with the patrol officer was shot in the ankle, police said. He was treated at a local hospital and released.
Police suspected that there might be some type of explosives or incendiary devices in their vehicle and evacuations were ordered prior to the bomb squad arriving on site. Evacuations included a nearby Wal-Mart as well as the Curtis Culwell Center.
According to the Rowlett/Sachse Scanner:
Officers are advising the scene is NOT safe. It is believed that explosive(s) have been placed near the Curtis Culwell Center. FBI Bomb Squad, Garland Police, Garland SWAT, Rowlett Police, Rowlett SWAT, and Texas State Troopers are on scene.
More than 12 hours after the shooting, the gunmen’s bodies were still lying on the street, as bomb squads searched their car and surrounding areas. Some “suspicious” items were destroyed as a precaution, GPD spokesman Joe Harn said. Extra ammunition was uncovered, but no explosives were found. The vehicle did contain luggage, suggesting the attackers may have driven directly to the conference center from Arizona.
Reports from the Drudge Report and heavy Twitter activity, suggested early on that ISIS may be taking responsibility for this attack. Further investigation revealed that Elton Simpson had dealings with the FBI in the past and had been convicted of lying to the FBI regarding plans to fly to Somalia to engage in “violent jihad.” Investigators haven’t revealed what they found in the suspects’ apartment, but Simpson’s social media footprint reveals one possible motive; he linked himself to ISIS in a tweet. The account with the username “Shariah is Light” reportedly mentioned “#texasattack” about 15 minutes before police reported that shots were fired. The tweet read, “The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu-mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen” In the tweet, “Amirul Mu’mineen” (the leader of the faithful) is a description that CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said likely 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.
Not to be outdone, Twitter users “fired back” so to speak with post-shooting tweets such as this:
Back in January, the Curtis Culwell Center was the location of the “Stand with the Prophet in Honor and Respect” rally that had an estimated 5000 people in attendance speaking against “islamophobia”(or anti-Muslim sentiment) which is a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam or Muslims.
The Curtis Culwell Center is owned and operated by the Garland Independent School District, but the city of Garland and the Garland ISD have not endorsed or implied endorsement of either event. They merely rent the venue out for events without prejudice.