DALLAS, TEXAS (TIP): The Islamic State on Tuesday, May 5 claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack by two gunmen outside Garland’s Curtis Culwell Center. But while the White House has called the assault an “act of terror,” officials said a possible connection to the extremist group remained under investigation.
Meanwhile, a federal law enforcement official said authorities had an open investigation of 31-year-old Elton Simpson at the time he and Nadir Soofi, 34, opened fire on police stationed outside the events center, which was hosting an anti-Islam gathering that included a contest for cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, also said investigators will be studying contacts — in both the U.S. and abroad — that the men had prior to the shooting in order to determine any terror-related ties.
Simpson and Soofi, who were friends and roommates from Phoenix, stepped from a black Chevrolet car in body armor with assault weapons and began firing, hitting unarmed Garland ISD security officer Bruce Joiner in the ankle. A Garland police traffic officer and SWAT team members returned fire. Both gunmen were killed.
The Islamic State’s Al Bayan radio station later issued a bulletin saying that “two soldiers of the caliphate” carried out the attack. The statement expressed the hope that Simpson and Soofi would be granted “the highest rank of paradise.” And it warned: “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.”
But it provided few details about the attack, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was too early to say if the Islamic State was involved.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who is seeking the GOP nomination for president, accused the Obama administration of bungling matters, arguing that federal officials should have intercepted the gunmen before they reached the anti-Muslim event in Garland.
“Once again, as with Nidal Hasan and the Tsarnaev brothers, we had radical Islamic terrorists who this administration knew about and yet failed to connect the dots and prevent this act of terrorism,” Cruz said.
Hasan’s November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood and the Tsarnaevs’ Boston Marathon bombing reflect “the same evil” that was behind the attack in Garland, Cruz said.
ABC News reported that an Islamic State recruiter known online as “Miski” had been in close contact with Simpson for months before Sunday’s attack outside the gathering, which was sponsored by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative and was framed as a free-speech event.
FBI officials say Miski is Muhammed Hassan, who has been a fugitive since 2009 when he fled Minneapolis as a teenager to join terror groups in Africa. In an April exchange about the cartoon contest, Simpson tweeted: “When will they ever learn?”
A few minutes later, Miski replied: “Where are the warriors of this Ummah [community]?” And then, referring to the January attack that killed 11 at a French satirical magazine: “The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the #US to do their part.”
In Dallas, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had little to say about the early stages of their investigations. The FBI’s Dallas office didn’t comment, and ATF spokesman Russ Morrison said the FBI and Garland police were handling the investigation, though he said the ATF is playing a supporting role.
Morrison said the ATF had traced the firearms used by the gunmen, but provided no additional information. NBC News cited law enforcement officials in reporting Tuesday that the guns were purchased legally.
Local Muslim leaders said the FBI hadn’t contacted them to ask about the gunmen.
“They were not part of our community,” said Imam Zia ul-Haque Sheikh, who leads the Islamic Center of Irving.
He said he wasn’t aware of anyone in the Dallas area helping the men, and added that he and the center have good relationships with the FBI. If he had details, he said he’d have “no reservations” about passing them on.
Imam Moujahed Bakhach of Arlington said he, too, hadn’t talked with the FBI, but would cooperate if the agency contacted him. The imam said he applauds law enforcement for stopping the gunmen, potentially saving lives.
“Don’t mess with Texas,” he said. “Texas is protected. All of us, we are together here.”
Garland Mayor Douglas Athas, like many in his city, said he wished AFDI president Pamela Geller hadn’t picked Garland as the site for Sunday’s event.
“Certainly in hindsight, we as a community would be better off if she hadn’t,” Athas said Tuesday. “Her actions put my police officers, my citizens and others at risk. Her program invited an incendiary reaction. She picked my community, which does not support in any shape, passion or form, her ideology.
“But at the end of the day, we did our jobs,” he said. “We protected her freedoms and her life.”
The Culwell Center, which is owned by Garland ISD, will host as many as 200,000 visitors in the coming weeks for school graduations. Athas said he expects no problems.
“There is no safer place in the country right now. The truth is, when ISIS goes looking for a target in the United States, they’re not going to pick the Curtis Culwell Center,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State.
Garland ISD Superintendent Bob Morrison agreed.
“There’s nothing out there that’s given us any indication that the building itself is threatened,” Morrison said. “We have not had any indication from the FBI or Homeland Security or anyone else that there’s that kind of talk out there. And they would let us know.”
Scene in Arizona
In Phoenix, the apartment complex where Simpson and Soofi lived was markedly quieter than it was Monday, when news trucks and media roamed the palm-tree-dotted premises in search of anyone who might have known the two. Apartment security officers were enforcing a no-trespassing policy and claimed to have had two members of the media arrested.
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Arizona office issued a statement condemning the attack.
“Violence in response to anti-Islam programs … is more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory,” CAIR’s statement read. “Bigoted speech can never be an excuse for violence.”
CAIR spokeswoman Kristy Sabbah said the agency had no knowledge of either Simpson or Soofi before the shooting and was working with local mosques to prevent such radicalism.
“Individuals with inflammatory rhetoric need to be reported immediately to law enforcement,” Sabbah said. “Individuals like these are not tolerated and will be asked to leave.”
Staff writers Ray Leszcynski and Michael E. Young reported from Dallas and Todd J. Gillman reported from Washington. Staff writers Naomi Martin and Kevin Krause in Dallas and Marc Ramirez and special contributor Dom DiFirio in Phoenix and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Center’s bag policy
Garland ISD on Tuesday announced a new policy for bags brought into the Curtis Culwell Center for graduation ceremonies. Although attendees are urged to leave purses and bags at home, the following will be allowed:
– Clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags no larger than 12 by 6 by 12 inches.
– Clear 1-gallon zip-lock bags.
– Clutch bags about the size of a hand and any medically necessary items are allowed upon inspection.
(Source: The Dallas Morning News)