Two Killed Outside Mohammed Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas

Saeed Ahmed et al., CNN, May 4, 2015

A cartoon contest featuring controversial images of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed turned deadly Sunday night when two men pulled up in a car and opened fire. Police returned fire, killing both men after one wounded a security guard.

None of the approximately 200 people attending the event were hurt.

A federal law enforcement source told CNN’s Susan Candiotti that one of the two men was a Phoenix resident who was convicted in 2011 of a terror-related charge. Elton Simpson is thought to have sent a tweet before the attack that read, in part, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen,” the source said. It bore the hashtag, #texasattack.”

Elton Simpson

Elton Simpson

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The keynote speaker at the event in Garland was right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was placed on an al Qaeda hit list. It was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative–considered an anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

“The Islamic jihadis are determined to suppress our freedom of speech violently.” Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, told CNN. “They struck in Paris and Copenhagen recently, and now in Texas.”

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Simpson was convicted in 2011 of making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism and sentenced to three years of probation, court records show. Prosecutors said he told FBI agents that he had not discussed traveling to Somalia to engage in “violent jihad” when, in fact, he had, according to an indictment reviewed by CNN.

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The men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, got out of their car and began shooting just as the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” inside was ending around 7 p.m. (8 p.m. ET), according to police.

An unarmed security guard, Bruce Joiner, was shot in the ankle. {snip}

Garland police, who were helping with security, fired back, killing both gunmen. The exchange lasted about 15 seconds, police said.

“The first suspect was shot immediately,” Garland Mayor Douglas Athas told CNN. “The second suspect was wounded and reached for his backpack. He was shot again.”

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An officer first told audience members to stay where they were. Seconds later, there was an announcement on the PA system by a SWAT team officer. He said, “Hey, there has been a shooting outside the venue. We need to escort you out of the room.”

A man in military fatigues herded the attendees into an auditorium.

“There was an incident outside,” the officer said. “Two suspects have been shot. Possibly have explosives on ’em, OK? I just need everybody to remain calm, become orderly, and we’re going to take you into the auditorium a little further away from the front of this building. All right?”

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The American Freedom Defense Initiative said it specifically picked the venue, a school district-owned facility, because it hosted an event denouncing Islamophobia in January.

The Sunday night event invited cartoonists to send in caricatures of Mohammed. The group said it received more than 350 submissions. The winning entry would get $10,000.

There were about 200 people at the event, police said.

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Security was tight. The school district brought in extra officers, and the group itself hired several more. Security costs, the group said, were upwards of $30,000.

Only those who purchased tickets ahead of time were admitted. They had to go through metal detectors.

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Many Muslims consider depictions of Mohammed blasphemous.

The prohibition against illustrating the prophet began as an attempt to ward off idol worship, which was widespread in Islam’s Arabian birthplace. But in recent years, it has taken a deadly toll.

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Wilders, the Dutch politician who was the keynote speaker at the Garland event, is controversial for his anti-Islam views. He was placed on an al Qaeda hit list for his film “Fitna.”

The film, which Wilders released online in March 2008 to international outcry, features disturbing images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from the Quran in an apparent attempt to paint Islam as a threat to Western society.

In 2011, Wilders was cleared of charges of inciting discrimination and hatred with the movie.

“The day we give away humor and freedom of speech is the day that we cease to exist as a free and independent people,” he told the attendees at the Garland event Sunday night.

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