Friday 23 March 2018

Attack on cartoon contest was just the beginning in war on America, warns Isil

FBI investigators collect evidence, including a rifle, where two gunmen were shot dead after their bodies were removed in Garland, Texas.
FBI investigators collect evidence, including a rifle, where two gunmen were shot dead after their bodies were removed in Garland, Texas.
Pamela Geller

Rachael Alexander

ISIL has formally claimed responsibility for the attack on an anti-Muslim event in Texas showcasing cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

"Two of the soldiers of the caliphate executed an attack on an art exhibit in Garland, Texas, and this exhibit was portraying negative pictures of the Prophet Mohammed," the jihadist group said yesterday.

"We tell America that what is coming will be even bigger and more bitter, and that you will see the soldiers of the Islamic State do terrible things," the group announced.

It was the first time Isil claimed to have carried out an attack in the US.

And last night the FBI was under increased scrutiny as it emerged the agency has closely monitored Elton Simpson - one of the men suspected of the shootings - since 2006, but failed to prevent the Isil-linked attack. Agents had recorded the young man from Phoenix talking about fighting non-believers for Allah, about plans to travel to South Africa and link up with "brothers" in Somalia, and about using school as a cover story for travelling overseas.

Simpson was arrested in 2010, one day before authorities say he planned to leave for South Africa. But despite more than 1,500 hours of recorded conversations, the government prosecuted him on only one minor charge - lying to a federal agent. Years spent investigating Simpson for terrorism ties resulted in three years of probation and $600 (€535) in fines and court fees.

Then, on Sunday, two men whom authorities identified as Simpson and Nadir Soofi, opened fire in a Dallas suburb on an unarmed security officer outside the contest.

Sources spoke about the FBI probe only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the investigation. The deliberately provocative contest had been expected to draw outrage from the Muslim community. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad - even a respectful one - is considered blasphemous, and drawings similar to those featured at the Texas event have sparked violence around the world.

Simpson and Soofi were wearing body armour, and one shot the security officer in the leg. Joe Harn, a Garland police spokesman, said that a single Garland police officer subdued the two gunmen but that after his initial shots, Swat officers nearby also fired at the two men.

Mr Harn said police don't know who fired the lethal shots.

The security officer was treated for his injury at a hospital and released.

Jeh Johnson, US homeland security secretary, said in a statement that law enforcement authorities are investigating the men's motives and all circumstances surrounding the attack.

"While all the facts are not in yet, this attack serves as a reminder that free and protected speech, no matter how offensive to some, never justifies violence of any sort," Mr Johnson said.

Simpson, described as quiet and devout, had been on the radar of law enforcement because of his social media presence, but authorities did not have an indication that he was plotting an attack, said one federal official. Less was known about Soofi, who appeared to have never been prosecuted in federal court, according to a search of court records.

In a statement released by Phoenix law firm Osborn Maledon, Simpson's family said it is "struggling to understand" how the incident happened.

"We are sure many people in this country are curious to know if we had any idea of Elton's plans," the statement says. "To that we say, without question, we did not."

The statement, which does not identify the relatives, also says the family is "heartbroken and in a state of deep shock" and sends prayers to everyone affected by this "act of senseless violence," especially the security guard who was injured.

Simpson had worshipped at the Islamic Community Centre of Phoenix for about a decade, but he had stopped showing up over the past two or three months, Usama Shami, the president of the mosque, said.

Court documents showed that Simpson, a convert to Islam, had been under investigation since 2006 because of his association with an individual the FBI believed was trying to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona.

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