By Debbie Gregory.
Counterterrorism experts are calling the recent assault on a Texas cartoon contest a lone-wolf jihad attack, something the Islamic State (IS) is trying to claim responsibility for.
Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, both Americans who lived in Phoenix, were shot and killed in the Dallas suburb of Garland. The pair tried to storm a controversial cartoon drawing event, which had been expected to draw outrage from the Muslim community due to the drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. Any drawing, no matter how respectfully drawn, is considered blasphemous.
IS recently urged those in the United States, Europe and Australia who cannot safely travel to fight in Syria and Iraq to carry out jihad in the countries where they live. An audio statement on the extremist group’s Al Bayan radio station called the men “two soldiers of the caliphate.”
Authorities have not revealed whether the 31-year-old Simpson and 34-year-old Soofi had any contact with IS, or if the group was even aware of the deliberately provocative cartoon contest in Garland.
Simpson and Soofi were wearing body armor, and one of the men shot a security officer in the leg before a single Garland police officer fired on the two gunmen. After the guard’s initial shots, nearby SWAT officers also fired. The security officer was treated at a hospital and released.
Mitchell Silber, executive managing director for K2 Intelligence, and former director of intelligence analysis for the New York City Police Department, shared his thoughts on the matter, saying, “It’s very tough to detect in advance, which means we are and will continue to be susceptible to lone actors who don’t give us much warning to thwart them.”
However, this wasn’t Simpson’s first run in with police. In 2010, he was arrested after being the focus of a four-year terror investigation. Despite collecting more than 1,500 hours of recorded conversations, including Simpson’s discussions about fighting nonbelievers for Allah and plans to link up with “brothers” in Somalia, the government only prosecuted him on one minor charge- lying to a federal agent. Simpson only faced three years of probation and $600 in fines and court fees.
According to family and friends, neither men showed real signs of radicalism.
Around 50 Islamists gathered in Pakistan for a special service in a public park to pay tribute to the gunmen as martyrs.
Terrorism expert Ben Venzke, who has been tracking terrorist groups for two decades, said jihadists have shifted their tactics to include not only major targets, like those on 9/11, but also small ones, like the Sydney siege in which the gunman, Man Monis, and two hostages were killed.
“The debate after 9/11 was whether too many resources were being focused on New York, Washington and not in the small towns. Now that’s very much a real issue because of the volumes of recruitment being done by the Islamic State throughout the United States, Europe, and Canada,” Venzke said. “So attacks on the coffee shop, the small events like in Australia, those are the kinds of things that we’re going to be seeing more of in the future, unfortunately.”
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Military Connection: Suspects Killed at Art Exhibit: By Debbie Gregory