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Texas shooting suspect linked to 2011 terror probe

The shootings took place outside a so-called "free speech" event offering an award for depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

By Kate Stanton and Danielle Haynes

GARLAND, Texas, May 3 (UPI) -- One of the two gunmen fatally shot Sunday after allegedly opening fire outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, was linked to a 2011 terror probe.

Garland Police said the two suspects drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center just before 7 p.m., where a "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest" was taking place. The gunmen got out of the car and shot a security guard in the ankle before they were shot and killed by police.

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The security guard, 62-year-old Bruce Joiner, was taken to the hospital and later released.

The gunmen were identified as Elton Simpson, 30, and Nadir Soofi, roommates from Phoenix.

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Garland Mayor Douglas Athas told CNN that the first suspect was "shot immediately" by police who were already stationed at the center.

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"The second suspect was wounded and reached for his backpack. He was shot again," Athas said.

Police detonated their own explosives in the suspects' car out of concern there might be an "incendiary device" in it. A SWAT team evacuated the center as well as nearby businesses.

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In 2011, Simpson was suspected of attempting to join Islamist militants in Somalia. He was convicted of lying to federal officials about plans to travel to Somalia to allegedly join the group, but a judge ruled there wasn't enough information to link him to international terrorism, The Washington Post reported. He was given three years probation.

Kristina Sitton, a lawyer who represented Simpson during the trial, said her client had converted to Islam and called him "harmless."

"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," she told ABC News. "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."

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FBI agents were searching Simpson and Soofi's Phoenix apartment for clues about the motive of their attack.

In the days leading up to the event there had been some Twitter posts in using the hashtag #TexasAttack protesting the cartoon event. Officials have yet to link those posts to the shootings Sunday or either of the gunmen.

The controversial event was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which is described as an "anti-Muslim" group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The event had offered a $10,000 first prize to the winner. Participants were asked to draw cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad though many Muslims consider such depictions to be offensive.

Pamela Geller, a columnist and AFDI president, described the cartoon contest as a "free speech" event and live-tweeted from the scene.

"This is a war. This is war on free speech," she wrote Sunday in a post on her website.

Geller's group spent nearly $10,000 on security for the event.

The event was booked at the Curtis Culwell Center shortly after yet another collision of free speech and religious freedom at the facility. In January, the Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect conference, promoted by the Sound Vision Foundation, was held at the center. The event taught Muslims how to deal with negative depictions of their faith.

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Crowds of protesters gathered outside that event, saying Islam was a threat to the American way of life. They said the Garland Independent School District should not have leased the building for a pro-Islam event, but the district said it must follow a non-discriminatory policy.

Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that "Texas officials are actively investigating to determine the cause and scope of the senseless attack."

"This is a crime that was quickly ended by the swift actions of law enforcement," Abbott added. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those affected tonight."

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