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Shooting A ‘Heinous Crime,’ Says Abbott; Muslim Group Says Bigotry No Excuse For Violence

curtis_culwell_center_-_garland.jpg
Curtis Culwell Center
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[Editor’s Note: This story will be updated]

3 p.m. CDT

A lawyer who previously represented a man who a federal official says was one of the gunmen who opened fire outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, says the man was a devout Muslim and respectful of the legal process. Arizona lawyer Kristina Sitton represented Elton Simpson, who according to court documents was convicted in Phoenix of lying to the FBI in 2010, about whether he’d discussed traveling to Somalia.

Sitton said she felt the charges were “completely trumped up,” to justify the costly investigation. She said he had converted to Islam as a young man.

1:45 p.m. CDT

The nation’s largest Muslim advocacy organization has condemned an attack by two gunmen outside the suburban Dallas venue hosting the provocative contest. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement Monday that a violent response is more insulting to the Muslim faith than any cartoon. The council said “bigoted speech” cannot be an excuse for violence. Leaders emphasized the American Muslim community’s support for open speech and condemned acts of terror.

The gunmen were shot and killed Sunday by a police officer after they left their vehicle outside a community center in Garland and began firing assault weapons. Garland police spokesman Joe Harn did not say whether the two were acting in response to Sunday's event, but said, “obviously they were there to shoot people.”

1 p.m. CDT

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called the shooting a “heinous crime” and said he was being briefed by state authorities. “We live in a country where the First Amendment is one of the paramount promises of this nation,” Abbott said. “That provides people the ability to speak out to say what they want. Just as people draw cartoons mocking the governor, people may draw cartoons mocking others.”

Abbott’s comments to reporters came following a National Day of Prayer breakfast in Austin. He shared the stage with a first-term Republican state legislator, Molly White, who earlier this year drew rebuke for instructing aides to ask Muslims to pledge their allegiance to the U.S. if they visited her office.

1 p.m. CDT

A resident of a Phoenix apartment complex says two men who lived in the unit being searched in the investigation into a Texas shooting largely kept to themselves, but that one was friendly on occasion. Bob Kieckhaver was among the residents of the Autumn Court Apartments who were evacuated for about nine hours from units near the one being searched.

Kieckhaver said one of the men, who had a beard and wore a Muslim prayer cap, spent time working on a black Chevy that was up for sale about two months ago. Kieckhaver said that man was quiet, while the second man who lived in the apartment would greet other residents at the mailbox. He said both men would feed stray cats on a patio.

12:15 p.m. CDT

Provocative ads from the group whose Texas contest for Prophet Muhammad cartoons drew gunfire are being removed from Philadelphia transit buses after a month-long contract expired. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority had started taking the pro-Israel American Freedom Defense Initiative’s ads down on Friday and expected to have them all removed by Monday.

The ads showing a 1941 photograph of Adolf Hitler with former Arab leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini appeared on 84 buses starting last month after a federal judge ordered SEPTA to accept them. They had the tagline: “Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran.”

A rabbi and other Jewish activists pasted stickers on the sides of buses bearing the ads.

11:45 a.m. CDT

FBI agents in Phoenix are now looking at a second vehicle parked at the complex apartment where a unit is being searched as part of the investigation into a shooting outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.

Agents had broken into a white minivan and spent hours looking at it, taking pictures and removing items. They're also examining and photographing pages of a notebook or papers in the trunk of a second vehicle, a silver sedan. The sedan is parked in a covered spot near the building where the apartment is located.

Meanwhile, other FBI agents are knocking on the doors of other apartments to interview residents as Phoenix Police Department bomb squad members wearing protective armor and helmets continue to go in and out of the apartment being searched.

11:10 a.m. CDT

A White House spokesman says the president has been informed about the shooting and believes no act of expression justifies violence. Spokesman Josh Earnest says extremists try to use expressions they consider to be offensive as a way to justify violence around the world.

Earnest said, “There is no act of expression, even if it’s offensive, that justifies an act of violence.” Earnest also praised the officers who responded to the Sunday night shooting, saying, “We saw a pretty important and notable display of bravery on the part of first responders.” Earnest credited the officers’ courage for the incident not resulting in more injuries or deaths.

11 a.m. CDT

An Arizona man identified by a federal law enforcement official as one of the gunmen who opened fired outside the cartoon contest in Texas has the same name as a man convicted in Arizona of lying to the FBI during a terrorism investigation.

Court documents show that a man named Elton Simpson was convicted in Phoenix of lying to the FBI in January 2010, about whether he’d discussed traveling to Somalia. According to trial testimony, Simpson is an American Muslim who became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2006 because of his association “with an individual whom the FBI believed was attempting to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona.” Simpson was convicted, but a judge ruled that prosecutors hadn’t proven the false statement involved terrorism. Simpson was later sentenced to three years of probation.

Police officers shot and killed two gunmen who shot at a security officer outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland. A federal law enforcement official says one of two gunmen killed at the Texas event late Sunday also was named Elton Simpson. Investigators were searching Simpson’s property in Phoenix in connection with the case, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

10:30 a.m. CDT

Texas police say the officer who fatally shot two gunmen who opened fire outside a contest for Prophet Muhammad cartoons likely saved lives. Garland Police Officer Joe Harn didn’t release the name of the officer, but says “his reaction, and his shooting with a pistol, he did a good job.”

Harn says officers were able to stop the two gunmen before they were able to get inside the suburban Dallas venue hosting the event and shoot anyone else. A security guard was shot and wounded during the incident Sunday night.

10:15 a.m. CDT

Police in Garland say the two men had opened fire with assault rifles on officers and the men also had more ammunition. Officer Horn said investigators searched their vehicle and detonated several suspicious items, but no bombs were found in the vehicle. He said luggage was found in vehicle but he wasn’t sure what specifically was found amid the luggage

Harn said the officer shot in the lower leg was the only officer hurt. He said a security plan for the event had been developed over several months.

9:50 a.m. CDT

A resident of the Phoenix apartment complex where an apartment and a vehicle are being searched as part of the investigation is describing what he observed.

Douglas Hayes said he was watching a movie late Sunday night when noise outside prompted him to go out on his balcony, located right above where the vehicle was parked. The 25-year-old says police cars flooded the complex and he saw SWAT team members throughout the complex.

Hayes said early Monday he heard a noise that turned out to be law enforcement personnel breaking into a parked white minivan. Hayes says the windows were broken, leaving glass scattered about.

Agents used a power saw to cut open the vehicle’s back door. Hayes said agents processed the van for hours afterward.

9:30 a.m. CDT

FBI agents are searching an apartment and a vehicle at a Phoenix apartment complex as part of the investigation into the deadly shooting.

Agents wearing FBI jackets could be seen going in and out of an apartment and also searching a white Chevy minivan. They took what appeared to be plastic bottles out of the vehicle.

The apartment is on the first floor of a two-story building. The area around the building is sealed off but residents could be seen walking about and standing on their balconies observing the law enforcement presence.

News media helicopters are keeping an eye on the Autumn Ridge Apartments complex, which has several hundred apartments in multiple buildings.

8:30 a.m. CDT

FBI spokesman Perryn Collier on Monday confirmed the Phoenix residence is being searched for indications of what prompted the shooting Sunday.

ABC News cites a senior FBI official in reporting that one of the gunmen, a resident of the Phoenix apartment, was known to authorities and was the subject of an investigation. (AP)