Nancy Wiechec / Reuters

FBI searches Arizona apartment for clues in Texas attack

Federal agents raid Phoenix apartment after two armed men shoot guard at Muhammad cartoon contest

Federal agents searched an apartment in Phoenix as part of an investigation into a shooting outside a suburban Dallas venue hosting a contest for cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the FBI confirmed Monday.

A police officer shot and killed two gunmen who opened fire outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, on Sunday night. A security guard was shot in his lower leg but was treated at a hospital and released hours later, said Garland officer Joe Harn.

“We were able to stop those men before they were able to penetrate the area and shoot anyone else,” he said. Both gunmen were wearing body armor, he added.

Harn said that the men used assault rifles.

“Obviously they were there to shoot people,” Harn said at a news conference..

A single Garland police officer subdued the two gunmen but that after his initial shots, SWAT officers nearby also fired at the two men, Harn said, adding police don't know who fired the lethal shots.

Harn added that investigators searched the men's car and detonated several suspicious items but that no bombs were found in the vehicle. 

A bomb squad, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a SWAT team and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had been involved in preparations for security around the exhibit, police in Garland said.

Agents on Sunday also searched a white Chevy minivan at the Autumn Ridge Apartments complex in Phoenix. 

A federal law enforcement official has identified one of the suspects in the shooting as Elton Simpson. The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said investigators were searching Simpson's property in connection with the case.

U.S. law enforcement officials have identified the second shooter as Nadir Soofi, Simpson's roommate. 

Court documents show a man by that name was convicted in 2011 in federal court in Phoenix on charges of making a false statement. According to the documents, Simpson discussed with an FBI informant a desire to travel to Somalia but denied to an FBI agent that he had had any such discussion.

U.S. government sources close to the case told Reuters that investigators are scouring electronic communications sent and received by the dead suspects for evidence of contacts between them and groups overseas, most notably the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

According to court documents, Simpson is an American Muslim who has been monitored since 2006 because of his association "with an individual whom the FBI believed was attempting to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona," U.S. District Judge Mary H. Murgia said in her order convicting Simpson.

Prosecutors alleged that the false statement involved terrorism, but Murgia's order said prosecutors hadn't proved that part of the allegation. Another federal judge later sentenced Simpson to three years of probation.

In Dallas on Monday, the bodies of the men could still be seen on the ground near their car; they were later covered with a tarp. Investigators were still processing the crime scene, Harn said.

The event on Sunday was hosted by the New York–based American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The contest offered $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting Muhammad.

According to Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of Muhammad — even a respectful one — is blasphemous. Drawings similar to those featured at the Texas event have sparked protests around the world.

Bosch Fawstin, who won the contest, ​is a cartoonist and blogger, according to the Dallas Morning News, which said the winning cartoon shows Muhammad wearing a turban and holding up a sword, angrily saying, “You can’t draw me.” An artist shown in the cartoon continues adding a stroke to the black-and-white sketch of Muhammad and responds, “That’s why I draw you.”

The event featured speeches by Pamela Geller, the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker known for his outspoken criticism of Islam. He received several standing ovations from the crowd and left immediately after his speech.

Wilders, who for a decade has advocated closing the Netherlands to migrants from predominantly Muslim countries, has lived under round-the-clock police protection since 2004. The group sponsoring Sunday's event said it paid $10,000 for off-duty police officers and other private security.

Geller told the AP before the event that she planned the contest to make a stand for free speech in response to outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad. She said in a statement after the shooting that it showed how "needed our event really was."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country's largest Muslim advocacy organization, condemned the attack in a statement.

"We reiterate the American Muslim community's support for freedom of speech — even bigoted speech — and its repudiation of terrorism in any form."

CAIR added that Geller and Wilders, along with the perpetrators of the attack, "all seek to provoke a downward spiral of mutual hostility and mistrust in America and around the world."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter