Elton Simpson has been identified as one of the two gunmen who opened fire Sunday night outside the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Texas. An unarmed security guard was shot, but survived with a non-life-threatening wound, before Simpson and his accomplice were killed by police.
Simpson, 30, and the other gunman, his roommate, 34-year-old Nadir Hamid Soofi, are from Phoenix, Arizona.
Simpson was “well known” by the FBI and was the subject of a previous terror investigation, ABC News reports. He and Soofi were armed with assault rifles and wearing body protection, police said. They exchanged fire with a Garland police officer armed with handgun.
Simpson’s father, Dunston Simpson, told ABC News, “We are Americans and we believe in America. What my son did reflects very badly on my family,” adding that his son “made a bad choice.”
WFAA reports that FBI agents were searching the gunmen’s Phoenix, Arizona home.
Police also remain at the scene of the shooting, and have been examining the gunmen’s car. They were concerned about explosives being hidden inside it.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Is Believed to Have Posted on Twitter Shortly Before the Shooting
Simpson is believed to have posted on his Twitter account to take responsibility before the shooting just before it happened. The account has since been deleted.
The tweet, which includes the hashtag #texasattack, reads, “The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu’mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua”
The post was made at 6:35 p.m., about 20 minutes before news of the shooting was first reported. The account contains several tweets referencing ISIS and Islamic terrorists.
Bay’ah means to give an oath of allegiance, in this case to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS known also as Amir al-Mu’minin.
“Make dua” means to call out in prayer.
He also told his users to follow @_AbuHu55ain, who posted about the shooting before the account was suspended.
According to the SITE intelligence service, the account belonged to British ISIS fighter Junaid Hussain.
Here are screenshots of those tweets:
2. He Was Sentenced to Probation in 2010 After He Was the Target of a FBI Terror Investigation
The FBI began investigating Simpson in 2006, when they began recording conversations he was having with an informant. He was arrested in 2010.
According to court records, Simpson received a sentence of three years probation in 2011 after he was found guilty of making a false statement to the FBI.
Simpson told FBI agents he had not talked with others about traveling to Somalia, when he in fact had talked to others about traveling to the African country, according to court documents. Judge Mary H. Murguia found there wasn’t enough evidence to support the FBI’s claim that the travel was related to terrorism. He had elected for a trial by the judge, rather than a jury.
The FBI had claimed that Simpson was traveling to Somalia to engage in “violent jihad.” The FBI claimed he was planning to travel to Africa to join the al-Shabaab terror group, which has since been responsible for the deadly Kenyan terror attacks at the Nairobi mall and Garissa University.
Simpson’s probation ended in 2014.
The Volokh Conspiracy blog wrote about the case in 2011, calling it a “partial government victory / partial defeat.”
Read the court order explaining why Simpson was found guilty:
3. He Was Born in Illinois & Converted to the Muslim Religion to Get Away From a ‘Bad Crowd’
According to court documents, Simpson was born in Illinois and then moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he “converted to the Muslim religion at a young age.”
His attorney during the 2010 trial, Kristina Sitton, told ABC News that Simpson was on the no-fly list and the FBI had tried to convince him to cooperate with them, including after his conviction. Sitton said she thought Simpson was “harmless,” according to ABC News:
He grew up the most normal guy. Just a normal high school guy… Converting to Islam seemed like a good thing for him. He had been going down a bad path and then he found Islam. He never struck me as someone who would do this sort of thing. I’m not a bleeding heart, I’m a Republican. I’ve seen some pretty bad guys and he seemed pretty normal.
Sitton told Vocativ that Simpson converted to Islam in high school.
“He said he was running with a bad crowd in high school—smoking, drinking and stuff,” she said. “He said Islam got him away from that stuff.”
She said he was always respectful to her and her staff, and tried to convert her and others to Islam.
“He was always kind about it,” she said. “He would say, ‘the Koran says this and the Koran says that,’ but it was always respectful.”
Simpson was working at a dentist’s office in Arizona, but had been on vacation prior to the shooting, his father told ABC News. Dunston Simpson said he last spoke to his son three weeks ago, but they “had not much to talk about, because we had some very serious differences.” Dunston Simpson said Elton was a “good kid.”
4. The Shooting Targeted a Controversial ‘Draw Muhammad’ Contest
The shooting happened at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday outside the Curtis Culwell Center, where the event was being held. Garland is about 20 miles from Dallas.
The “free speech” art exhibit and contest, themed “Draw the Prophet,” was created by the American Freedom Defense Initiative in response to a pro-Muslim event in January that drew thousands of protesters. It included the awarding of a prize to the cartoonist who drew the best depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. More than 300 entries were received for the contest, with an award of $10,000, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Islam prohibits depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, and cartoons of the Prophet have led to violence, including the shooting in January at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.
The event created controversy with some saying that it is an attack on Islam. The event’s organizers, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said it was just exercising its right to freedom of speech, according to the Dallas Morning News.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative is run by Pamela Geller, a conservative political activist, writer and commentator. She also co-founded the group Stop Islamization of America, which has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and others. It calls itself a human rights organization dedicated to free speech, religious liberty and individual rights.
According to the Dallas Morning News, police were at the event to provide security because of the controversy.
The Curtis Culwell Center is owned by the Garland Independent School District.
Police were paid $10,000 by the event’s organizers for security.
The announcement that the shooting had happened was caught on the live stream of the event:
5. ISIS Supporters Had Been Calling For an Attack on the Garland Event
Posts on social media prior to the shooting show that the art exhibit and contest were targeted by supporters of the radical Islam terror group ISIS. One post, on May 1, said, “Brothers in Garland Texas Please go to there with your weapons, bombs or with your knives. Threaten your enemies & the enemies of Allaah.”
Another post, by Mujahid Miski, read, “The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the US to do their part.”
Mujahid Miski had communicated with Simpson, according to social media posts. Miski is the alias of American jihaid Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, who is wanted by the FBI for traveling to Somali and joining al-Shabaab. He is known to have recruited supporters for ISIS, al-Shabaab and other Islamic terror groups.
He posted about him after the attack:
Those accounts have also been deleted by Twitter, which has aggressively banned ISIS-related users.