Gunmen killed outside free speech event near Dallas

by Gregory Tomlin, |
A police officer interacts with witnesses to the shooting outside of the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative in Garland, Texas May 3, 2015. | REUTERS/Mike Stone

GARLAND, Texas (Christian Examiner) – Two gunmen opened fire yesterday on a security officer outside a free speech event in Garland where organizers were offering a $10,000 reward for the best cartoon depicting the founder of Islam, Muhammad.

Extra security, including members of local SWAT teams, were on hand at the event at the Curtis Culwell Center, owned by the Garland Independent School District, organizers of the event said. The officers engaged and killed the gunmen within seconds of the first shots being fired.

Joe Harn, a spokesman with the Garland Police Department, said police were investigating but had not yet determine if the shooting was connected to the content of the conference, attended by 200 people.

ABC News has reported, however, that the FBI identified the two gunmen as residents of Phoenix. One of them, Elton Simpson, was the focus of a previous FBI investigation.

Simpson was questioned after attempting to arrange travel to Somalia where the terror group Al Shabaab is gaining momentum. Al Shabaab, a former ally of Al-Qaeda, is reportedly entertaining overtures to join the Islamic State (ISIS). FBI agents are in the process of searching Simpson's apartment and another vehicle in Phoenix.

Twenty minutes before the attack last night, a Twitter account – since suspended – claimed two people would sacrifice themselves in a martyrdom operation in Texas. The message was followed by #texasattack.

The men responsible for the attack were likely hoping for a Charlie Hebdo-style attack. On Jan. 7, Islamic radicals, reportedly trained in military tactics by ISIS, attacked the offices of the satirical French magazine in Paris, killing 12. Islamic tradition forbids depicting Muhammad in artwork.

Perceived insults to Muhammad are not the only reason such attacks have occurred. In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic militant after producing the film Submission, which was critical of the treatment of women in Islamic culture.

The keynote speaker at the event, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, was Geert Wilders, the Dutch lawmaker who stepped up criticism of Islam after the death of the Dutch filmmaker. Wilders reportedly has 24-hour police protection. The Associated Press reported Wilders received a standing ovation after his remarks.

The bodies of the attackers in Garland laid next to their weapons and car for much of the night as police used robots to search them and their vehicle for explosives. Harn told reporters at a press conference that the car could contain explosives. Police conducted controlled detonations of items in the car out of an abundance of caution.

The wounded security officer at the event was identified as Bruce Joiner, an employee of the Garland ISD. Some reports said Joiner was not armed. He was treated and released from an area hospital.

Police have scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. Central today.