- Two gunmen opened fire outside of a community center where an anti-Islam event was being held in Garland, Texas, at around 7 pm on Sunday. One of the gunmen was Elton Simpson, an Illinois-born American who had been investigated and briefly arrested by the FBI in 2009 and 2010 for allegedly trying to travel to Somalia to join a terrorist group.
- The gunmen shot a security officer, Bruce Joiner, in the ankle. He survived and has been released from the hospital. Both gunmen were shot and killed by police. No other injuries have been reported.
- The event was a contest held by anti-Islam activists to draw the Prophet Mohammed, which most Muslims consider an offensive act. It was hosted by an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as a hate group.
What happened in Garland: a brief shooting that came suddenly
About 150 people gathered on Sunday at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, for the anti-Islam event, the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest. The event was coming to a close when two gunmen pulled up in a car and opened fire on a security guard outside of the event center. The guard, Bruce Joiner, was shot in the ankle.
Police officers, who appear to have already been nearby providing security for the event, returned fire and killed the two gunmen. Police locked down the event and evacuated nearby stores, including a Walmart and a Sam's Club; they also searched the gunmen's car for explosives but are not reported to have found anything.
The security officer, Joiner, was taken to the hospital for his injuries but was released shortly after. No one else has been reported injured, and the crisis appears to have ended relatively quickly. Police ushered event attendees out of the area in buses and have been searching the area for any possible explosives but do not appear to have found anything.
The event: an anti-Islam event sponsored by a hate group
The event in Garland, the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest, gathered several top anti-Islam activists and dozens of supporters for a two-hour series of anti-Muslim speeches. It was capped off with a contest for drawing the Prophet Mohammed. The winner was awarded $12,500, according to the Daily Beast.
The event organizers portrayed the event partly as standing up for free speech — the January mass shooting of French magazine staffers at Charlie Hebdowas frequently cited. They also positioned the event as "sounding the alarm about Muslim encroachment into Europe and America, and its potential impact on American culture," according to Breitbart.
The event was organized by Pamela Geller, a far-right anti-Muslim activist who leads a group called Stop Islamization of America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as a hate group. Geller has argued, for example, that President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim and a "love child" of Malcolm X.
The Anti-Defamation League, which also classifies Geller's organization as a hate group, has described its goals as "promot[ing] a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam" and "seek[ing] to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy 'American' values."
The event solicited drawing of the Prophet Mohammed, which most Muslims consider offensive; Geller described it as intended to defend free speech and to call attention to what she sees as a Muslim threat to America. She told Breitbart News, "At a time when American Muslim groups in the US should have stood up for free speech and showed the world the way forward, they chose to stand with the Hebdo jihadists." (This, of course, is false — Muslim groups widely condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks.)
The event's most prominent attendee was Geert Wilders, who is the head of a far-right Dutch political party that is the fourth-largest in the Netherlands parliament and is a leading figure among European anti-Muslim activists. Wilders has called for banning the Koran, for example, and was briefly barred from visiting the United Kingdom for his views.
The event space in Garland had, in January, hosted an event dedicated to promoting tolerance around Muslim issues, called "Stand With the Prophet Against Terror and Hate." The event, which hosted a number of Muslim-American families from nearby communities, had been besieged by anti-Muslim protesters, one of whom told reporters, "We don't want them here."
What we know about the shooters: very little
US law enforcement authorities have identified one of the shooters as 30-year-old Elton Simpson, according to the Washington Post's Adam Goldman, who adds that the FBI is investigating Simpson's roommate as possibly the other shooter. Goldman reports that law enforcement does not believe the attack was directed by an international group, but does find troubling details in Simpson's history:
Simpson was born in Illinois and converted to Islam at a young age, court documents show. The government began investigating him in 2006, recording conversations between him and a paid informant.
In May 2009, according a federal court document, Simpson told an FBI informant: "We need to go to Somalia. We can make it to the battlefield. It's time to roll."
Simpson was arrested by the FBI in 2010 for allegedly trying to travel to Somalia to join a terrorist group, but in 2011 a judge reduced the charges to making a false statement and he was given three years of probation.
Given the nature of the event, and the January Charlie Hebdo shootings by French Muslims who had declared allegiance to jihadist terrorism, speculation has naturally fallen on whether the shooters may have been affiliated with or inspired by jihadist causes or groups.
Initial speculation, so far unconfirmed, has also fallen on two Twitter accounts that, in the minutes before the shooting, posted tweets that could be read as references to an attack like the one in Garland. Here is one of the two accounts, declaring "baya" (oath) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, also known as Amirul Mu'mineen.
Still no confirmation but several ISIS accts have retweeted/quoted the following as being 1 of the Texas shooters: pic.twitter.com/KZZG4T1Oe5
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) May 4, 2015
The Los Angeles Times's Matt Pearce has the best rundown on why people are focusing on this and another Twitter account, both of which have since been suspended:
A Twitter account titled "Shariah is Light" — bearing the image of extremist Islamic propagandist Anwar Awlaki, who was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011 — posted an allusion to the attack just minutes before it happened.
Before the shooting, the "Shariah is Light" account also tweeted a command to follow another account, titled "AbuHussainAlBritani," which also tweeted before and after the attack.
"The knives have been sharpened, soon we will come to your streets with death and slaughter!" tweeted the "AbuHussainAlBritani" account before the attack.
After the attack, the "AbuHussainAlBritani" account began tweeting praise of the Texas shooting, and linked the attack to the militant group Islamic State.
"Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire at the ... art exhibition in texas!" the account tweeted. "Kill Those That Insult The Prophet."
"They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State," the account tweeted.
As the New York Times's Rukmini Callimachi pointed out on Twitter, however, jihadist groups are often eager to claim responsibility for violent attacks that they may have in fact had nothing to do with.