Both Texas Gunmen Identified, One Known To FBI; And Also To ISIS?
WASHINGTON — Since at least 2007, the FBI has been able to recognize the voice of Elton Simpson — one of the men suspected in the Texas shootings outside a contest featuring cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
Agents heard the young man from Phoenix talk about fighting nonbelievers for Allah. About plans to travel to South Africa and link up with “brothers” in Somalia. About using school as a cover story for traveling overseas.
Simpson was arrested in 2010, one day before authorities say he planned to leave for South Africa. But despite more than 1,500 hours of recorded conversations, the government prosecuted him on only one minor charge — lying to a federal agent. Years spent investigating Simpson for terrorism ties resulted in three years of probation. He also was ordered to pay $600 in fines and court fees. Then, on Sunday, two men whom authorities identified as Simpson and Nadir Soofi opened fire in a Dallas suburb on a security officer stationed outside the contest.
The deliberately provocative contest had been expected to draw outrage from the Muslim community. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous, and drawings similar to those featured at the Texas event have sparked violence around the world.
Simpson and Soofi were wearing body armor, and one shot the guard in the leg. The officer returned fire and struck both men, killing them. The guard was treated for his injury at a hospital and released.
Simpson, described as quiet and devout, had been on the radar of law enforcement because of his social media presence, but authorities did not have an indication that he was plotting an attack, said one federal official familiar with the investigation. Less was known about Soofi, who had no criminal record, according to a search of federal court records.
Simpson had worshipped at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix for about a decade, but he quit showing up over the past two or three months, the president of the mosque told The Associated Press.
A convert to Islam, Simpson first attracted the FBI’s attention in 2006 because of his ties to Hassan Abu Jihaad, a former U.S. Navy sailor who had been arrested in Phoenix and was ultimately convicted of terrorism-related charges, according to court records. Jihaad was accused of leaking details about his ship’s movements to operators of a website in London that openly espoused violent jihad against the U.S.
In the fall of that year, the FBI asked one of its informants, Dabla Deng, a Sudanese immigrant, to befriend Simpson and ask for advice about Islam. Deng had been working as an FBI informant since 2005 and was instructed to tell Simpson he was a recent convert to the religion.
Over the next few years, Deng would tape his conversations with Simpson with a hidden recording device accumulating more than 1,500 hours of conversations, according to court records. “I’m telling you, man, we can make it to the battlefield,” Simpson is recorded saying on May 29, 2009. “It’s time to roll.”
In court, prosecutors presented only 17 minutes and 31 seconds during Simpson's trial, according to court documents. “I have to say that I felt like these charges were completely trumped up, that they were just trying to cover up what had been a very long and expensive investigation and they just couldn’t leave without some sort of charges,” Simpson's attorney, Kristina Sitton said.
Sitton described Simpson as so devout that he would not even shake her hand and would sometimes interrupt their legal meetings so he could pray. She said she had no indication that he was capable of violence and assumed he just “snapped.”
On Monday, federal agents spent hours canvassing a Phoenix apartment complex where the men apparently lived. Bob Kieckhaver, one of a number of residents who were evacuated for about nine hours from units near the men's apartment, said one of them had a beard and wore an Islamic version of a prayer cap. He was quiet but the second man was more open and would greet others at the mailboxes. Both men were seen feeding stray cats, he said.
Simpson was quiet, never angry and a regular on the basketball court playing with young members of the mosque, said Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix where Simpson worshipped for years. He asked questions about prayer and marriage, Shami said. And he was rattled by the FBI investigation into him years earlier. Shami said most people at the mosque knew Deng was an informant because he showed such little interest in learning about Islam. “I’ve never seen him angry,” Shami said of Simpson. “That’s the honest truth. He was always having a grin.” (AP)
The New York Times reports this: About the time of the attack, on a Twitter account with the name ‘Shariahis Light’ that has since been suspended, someone posted using the hashtag #texasattack. The profile picture on the account is of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant imam killed in a 2011 American drone strike in Yemen, but the Middle East Media Research Institute identified the account as belonging to Mr. Simpson, and said that some of his social media contacts were known supporters of the Islamic State.
Mr. Awlaki had repeatedly called for violence against cartoonists who, in his view, insulted the Prophet Muhammad, writing in Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine in 2010, “The medicine prescribed by the Messenger of Allah is the execution of those involved.” He also called for the killing of Geert Wilders, one of the speakers at Sunday’s event in Garland.
CNN reports this: Simpson apparently posted a tweet before the attack that read, in part, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.” The tweet from Simpson also said he and his fellow attacker had pledged loyalty to “Amirul Mu’mineen” (the leader of the faithful), which CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said probably refers to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
After the shooting, an ISIS propagandist that Simpson had earlier asked his readers to follow tweeted, “Allahu Akbar!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire” at the Texas event. “If there is no check on the freedom of your speech, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions,” tweeted the propagandist, who was identified by two American groups that monitor jihadi websites as Junaid Hussain, a British ISIS fighter in Syria who goes by the name Abu Hussein al Britani.