GARLAND. Texas – It’s become a familiar refrain in the aftermath of a terrorist attack or the discovery of a jihadist cell.
Elton Simpson, 31, was described by someone who knew him as a “very kind” religious man who “didn’t seem to be a threat to anybody.”
Yet Simpson, a convert to Islam, and his roommate, Nadir Soofi, armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor, intended to enter the Curtis Culwell Center northeast of Dallas on Sunday night and slaughter some 200 people inside attending the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest,” including this reporter, according to Garland Police Chief Joe Harn, who spoke to media Monday.
A police officer shot Simpson and Soofi on the street with his pistol after they jumped out of their car and began firing, and SWAT officers also opened fire, killing both men. A school district police officer, Bruce Joiner, was hit in the ankle but was released from the hospital Sunday night.
“We were able to stop those men before they were able to penetrate the area and attempt to shoot anyone else,” said Harn, who helped lead a security operation that included a SWAT team, barricades, a police tower and metal detectors at the entrance of the building.
The FBI Sunday night searched the north Phoenix home of Simpson, who was the subject of a 2010 terrorist investigation, skirted a no-fly list and had been well known to the bureau since 2007.
Tuesday morning, ISIS claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, declaring it was carried out by “two soldiers of the caliphate.”
“We tell … America that what is coming will be more grievous and more bitter and you will see from the soldiers of the Caliphate what will harm you, God willing,” said the statement, read on the jihadist group’s Al Bayan radio station in Raqqa, Syria.
As WND reported from the scene, the attack took place shortly after the event concluded at about 6:50 p.m. Central Time as some of the 200 attendees were making their way to their cars. Police ushered them back in to the building and they, along with media, were put on lockdown.
Keynote speaker Geert Wilders – the outspoken Dutch politician who has had a permanent security detail for a decade because of death threats due to his opposition to the “Islamization” of the West and its values, culture and form of government – left immediately after speaking and was gone when the shots were fired.
Simpson’s former lawyer, Kristina Sitton, said in an interview with ABC News that Simpson “didn’t seem to me to be any threat to anybody.”
“He seemed to be very kind but entrenched in Islam,” she said. “He wouldn’t shake my hand.”
Author and Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, who co-hosted the event Sunday with author and Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller, shares Wilders’ belief that many in the West don’t understand or misrepresent the motivations of violent jihadists, attributing their violent acts to anger and frustration fueled by poverty or oppression, or by just plain insanity.
On Monday’s MSNBC “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann insisted Simpson and Soofi were “nut cases” who had “nothing to do with Islam.”
But Spencer contends that while a particular offense may be cited as a pretext for an attack – such as cartoons that according to traditional Islamic believe blaspheme Muhammad – the impetus is the mandate to advance Islam until the whole world is under the rule of Allah, governed by Islamic law.
That duty comes from the Islamic religious texts, he told WND Monday.
“It goes with and is an expression of their piety,” Spencer said. “They don’t kill out of a seething uncontrollable rage. Thus it is not at all surprising that they would have been kind personally to those not perceived to be at war with Islam.”
Sitton defended Simpson against charges of lying to an FBI agent in 2010 about a trip he was planning to take to Somalia to join the al-Shabaab jihadist group. He was sentenced to just three years probation by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Mary Murguia.
Sitton told ABC that Simpson grew up “the most normal guy” and converting to Islam “seemed like a good thing for him” as he had been on a “bad path” until he converted to 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 said.
ISIS in America
But after the attack Sunday night, the SITE Intelligence Group reported a fighter with the jihadist group ISIS claimed on Twitter that the shooting was carried out by two of its supporters, and Simpson himself sent a message pledging allegiance to the leader of ISIS leader.
In 2008, Simpson was recorded telling an FBI informant that Allah loves people “out there fighting [non-Muslims].”
According to FBI recordings, he said the reward for jihad is high, because if you “get shot, or you get killed, it’s [heaven] straight away.”
Just one hour before the attack Sunday, Simpson pledged loyalty to the head of ISIS, Amirul Mu’mineen, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ending the tweet with the hashtag #texasattack.
“The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu’mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua #texasattack.”
Bay’ah is an Islamic practice of giving an oath of allegiance to a leader.
Last Thursday, Spencer warned of an ISIS threat on U.S. soil in a talk to students at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
He asked why it’s important to care about ISIS then answered his own question: “It matters because they want to kill you.”
Spencer said ISIS has issued orders to their members in America to murder people, and “if you can’t shoot them, then run them down with your car.”
After the shooting Sunday night, Spencer tweeted: “The shooting outside our free speech event shows once again that moderate Muslims are unable or unwilling to rein in their violent brethren.”
The Washington, D.C., watchdog group Judicial Watch has claimed it has evidence that ISIS is running a camp just a few miles from the Texas border city of El Paso.
Federal officials deny the report, but the organization cites a Mexican army field grade officer and a Mexican federal police inspector among the sources.
A tweet from a jihadist who escaped while on bail for a cyber attack on U.S. military central command and fought for ISIS forces in Syria, also hailed the attack Sunday: “Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers opened fire at the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) art exhibition in texas!”
On Thursday, a Twitter account purporting to belong to Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, an American jihadi reportedly fighting in Somalia, called for attacks to be carried out in the United States similar to the massacre of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris in January.
Hassan’s tweet was accompanied by a link to a story about the event in Garland Sunday night: “The brothers from the Charlie hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the #US to do their part.”
Hassan also tweeted: “The knives have been sharpened, soon we will come to your streets with death and slaughter!”
After the shooting, Hassan’s account began to tweet praise of the attack and linked it to ISIS.
“Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire at the … art exhibition in texas!” the account tweeted. “Kill Those That Insult The Prophet.”
“They Thought They Was Safe In Texas From The Soldiers of The Islamic State,” the account tweeted.
In contrast, some Twitter users began posting about the shooting using a #JeSuisGarland hashtag, similar to the #JesuisCharlie hashtag that spread after the Charlie Hebdo attack in which two Muslim brothers killed 12 people in the Paris offices of the French satirical magazine.
Media wishing to interview WND News Editor Art Moore, who was at the event Sunday night and broke the story, should email [email protected]