Convict linked to attack at Mohammed cartoon event

FBI agents view evidence at the Curtis Culwell Center on May 4, 2015, in Garland,Texas.

An Arizona man with links to Islamic jihad and his Phoenix roommate were identified Monday as the attackers killed outside a Texas art show featuring cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed.

“The two gunmen who were involved in the shooting in Dallas… Were determined to be from Phoenix,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge John Lannarelli said Monday as federal investigators searched the pair’s north Phoenix apartment.

Federal authorities who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the case identified the suspects as Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi.

The gunfight took place outside the Mohammed Art Exhibit event at the Curtis Culwell Center in suburban Garland, Texas. Police said the suspects began shooting at a security guard, who was wounded in the leg. A traffic officer with the security guard then killed both suspects.

Simpson, 30, is believed to be the man who tweeted several ominous messages before the Garland incident, using the hashtag #texasattack.

Simpson was indicted in January 2010 for lying to the FBI in a terrorism investigation when he told federal investigators he had not discussed traveling to Somalia to engage in “violent jihad,” federal court papers show. He was convicted a year later and sentenced to three years probation.

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The attorney who defended him said he was a devout Muslim who “never seemed dangerous.”.

“To me, he seemed harmless,” attorney Kristina Sitton said. She said Simpson tried to convert his defense team to Islam.

She theorized that her former client may have “just snapped” when he heard about the Texas event.

The FBI initially investigated Simpson because he has some association with a man they believed was setting up a terrorist cell in Phoenix. At some point suring the investigation, Simpson, who was born in Illinois and converted to Islam as a child, allegedly had purchased a plane ticket to South Africa. He told agents he planned to study Islam at a madrassa, or Islamic school, and would not return to the U.S. For five years.

Simpson allegedly met with FBI informant Dabla Deng to discuss fighting in Somalia. Deng, who is originally from Kenya, attended the same mosque as Simpson. The FBI had asked Deng to befriend Simpson so they could determine whether he intended to join the terror cell, court papers say.

Deng met with Simpson three or four times a week, wore a body wire to record their conversations and was paid $132,000 by the FBI for his services, court papers say.

In one recorded conversation in July 2007, Simpson allegedly told Deng he wanted to leave the U.S. To fight non-Muslims “because the brothers in, like, Palestine and stuff, they need help.”.

He told Deng in another recorded conversation that non-believers, whom he referred to as “kuffar,” are “fighting against us it’s because they don’t want us to establish sharia,” or Islamic law.

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FBI Agent Jeff Herbert testified that until Simpson lied about discussing Somalia with Deng, the agents were unsure whether they should be concerned about Simpson or his travel plans. After the interview, the FBI tried unsuccessfully to put him on the no-fly list that would prevent him from traveling overseas so the FBI arrested Simpson and sought charges, U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia wrote in her order.

Simpson’s attorney argued that Simpson had no connections with al-Shabab, the terror group fighting in Somalia, and over more than 300 days over recorded conversations only rarely mentioned traveling abroad.

Simpson had waived his right to a jury trial. In a 2011 bench trial, the judge found him guilty of lying to the FBI, but said there was insufficient evidence to find that the false statement involved international or dOmestic terrorism. In addition to probation, he was fined $500.

Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Center of Phoenix, told The Arizona Republic that he first met Simpson about 10 years ago but that Simpson had not regularly attended the mosque, off Interstate 17.

He said that nothing taught at his mosque or any other would have encouraged violence.

“If you look at people who have been radicalized, they haven’t been radicalized in the mosque,” he said.

Omestic terrorism. In addition to probation, he was fined $500.

Soofi, 34, of Phoenix owned a carpet cleaning business, according the Arizona corporate records. Previously, from 2009 to 2013, he owned Cleopatra’s Pizza Bistro, a 40-seat restaurant in North Phoenix, that served halal, or Islamically permissible food. Court records show he was sued twice for allegedly stealing pay-per-view broadcasts of Ultimate Fighting matches and showing them to patrons at the restaurant. He lost the lawsuits by default and was ordered to pay damages of several thousand dollars.

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Soofi’s Facebook page indicates he has a young son, Nathaniel, and a brother, Ali. He studied at the University of Utah and loved to ride his motorcycle. At some point, he lived in Islamabad, Pakistan, where his family is from, his Facebook page says. His posts show sympathy for Palestinians, hatred for Israel and devotion to the Quran, the Muslim holy book, and various Muslim preachers.

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