By Jared Christopher, AFP
Garland, Texas — One of the men shot dead by police when he and an accomplice attempted to storm an event hosted by an anti-Muslim group in Texas was investigated by the FBI over alleged plans to wage holy war, court documents show.
Investigators were delving into the backgrounds of the two suspected Islamist gunmen — they were roommates, The Los Angeles Times reported — who opened fire with assault rifles outside Sunday’s controversial exhibit of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
A quick-acting Texas policeman shot the two suspects before they were able to enter the venue in Garland, a suburb of Dallas.
There was no confirmed claim of responsibility for the failed attack, but several US media identified the shooters as 31-year-old Elton Simpson and 34-year-old Nadir Soofi.
The pair shared an apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, the LA Times said, and CNN broadcast footage of FBI agents raiding the alleged address.
And in court records seen by AFP, Simpson was sentenced to three years’ probation in 2011 after FBI agents presented a court with taped conversations between him and an informant discussing travelling to Somalia to join “their brothers” waging holy war.
The prosecution was unable to prove that Simpson had committed a terror-related offense, but did establish he had lied to investigators when he denied having discussed going to Somalia.
Private terror watchdog SITE said that at least one Twitter account linked to a known militant of the Islamic State jihadist group has claimed the attackers as sympathizers. But Simpson’s father said his son had simply “made a bad choice.”
The White House said that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the investigation, which Texas police said was ongoing.
“There is no form of expression that justifies an act of violence,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that investigators were looking into the “assailants’ ties to organized terrorist activity.”
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group listed by civil rights watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group, had organized the event, which drew about 200 people.
At the event, attended by Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders and AFDI co-founder Pamela Geller, supporters held an exhibition of entries to a competition to draw caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
Many Muslims find drawings of the prophet to be disrespectful or outright blasphemous, and such cartoons have been cited by Islamists as motivation in several previous attacks.
AFDI had offered a $10,000 prize for the winner of the contest, which was billed as a “free speech” event.
Police said two men wearing body armor and toting assault rifles drove up to the conference, jumped out and opened fire on an unarmed security guard.
Garland police spokesman Joe Harn told reporters the guard was shot in the ankle and that a traffic police officer in the vicinity responded, taking down the two better-armed assailants.