Two gunmen ‘carrying explosives’ attack anti-Islam art contest in Texas: Suspects dead and security guard wounded at ‘draw Muhammad’ event that offered $10k prize.
- Two suspects were gunned down after shooting the guard in the leg outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland
- Building and surrounding area was placed on lockdown by a SWAT team with around 100 attendees still inside
- Reports suggest the pair were carrying explosives as they approached the building in the Dallas suburb
- Garland Mayor Douglas Athas said the second suspect was shot as he turned to reach for his backpack
- The American Freedom Defense Initiative event offered a $10,000 prize for the best caricature of the prophet
- They had invested thousands to employ 40 additional security guards for the exhibition, fearing threats could arise
- Involved a keynote speech from far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has linked the Koran to terrorism
- Local police said they had monitoring the build-up to the event and had not received any credible threats
Two heavily-armed gunmen suspected to have been carrying explosives have been shot dead after opening fire outside an anti-Muslim art exhibition in Dallas. The pair were gunned down by police after shooting a security guard in the ankle outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, during the controversial event where caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad were being displayed. One suspect reached for his backpack after he was shot the first time, before he was hit with a second fatal bullet, according to the local mayor. The building and surrounding area was placed on lockdown by SWAT teams with around 100 attendees still inside after multiple gunshots were heard. FBI bomb squad robots were then sent in to check the suspect’s vehicle, as the two bodies lay on the road beside it, with police fearing there could be ‘incendiary devices inside’. Residents later heard an ‘explosion’, suggesting a bomb was detonated by law enforcement on site. A contest offering a top prize of $10,000 for the best portrayal of the prophet was just minutes from finishing when the shootout unfolded. The event had been condemned by critics as an attack on Islam, but the organizers insisted they were exercising free speech.
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After the shooting no one was allowed to leave as nearby businesses, including a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club, were evacuated. Those inside started to sing patriotic songs, including the national anthem and God Bless America, and said a prayer for the injured security guard after one woman pulled out an American flag form her bag. The two suspects pulled up in a vehicle with with explosives, before getting out and firing at the officer, identified as 57-year-old Bruce Joiner, who was employed by the independent school district and wearing a ‘police-style uniform’. Mr Joiner was taken to hospital in a stable condition and was released later on Sunday evening. Garland Police officer Joe Harn said on Sunday evening they had been monitoring the build-up to the event and had not received any credible threats. During a press conference, he described how the shootout lasted only seconds. He insisted the force are being ‘cautious’ and would keep the area closed off until it was deemed safe. He said: ‘Because of the situation of what was going on today and the history of what we’ve been told has happened at other events like this, we are considering their car (is) possibly containing a bomb.’ Johnny Roby of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was attending the conference. He said he was outside the building when he heard around 20 shots that appeared to be coming from the direction of a passing car. Roby said he then heard two single shots before officers yelled that they had the car before he was sent inside the building. Randy Potts, a contributor for The Daily Beast, was watching the speeches wrap up when a man wearing camouflage shouted: ‘Get inside the conference room now!’ ‘The room was oddly quiet,’ he said. ‘A hush fell over the crowd of about 150, as if we were listening for something outside. Then a camo-clad security guard with a rifle got up on stage and announced that a cop and two suspects had been shot.’ He described how security surrounding the event was evident even as he drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center. The parking lot was surrounded by yellow tape and his ID was checked twice before he was allowed to enter.
Garland Mayor Douglas Athas told CNN the first suspect was shot immediately while the second was wounded when he reached for his back pack, and then shot again. Texas Governor Greg Abbott described the incident as a ‘senseless attack’ and praised the ‘swift action’ of Garland law enforcement.
Security guard Bruce Joiner was shot in the leg while standing outside the building. His injuries were not life-threatening
The attack unfolded shortly after Dutch member of parliament and leader of the far-right Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, had delivered his keynote speech. There had been calls by members of Congress for him to be stopped at the border so he would not be able to speak.
‘We are here in defiance of Islam to stand for our rights and freedom of speech,’ he said during his speech shortly before the building was shut down. ‘That is our duty.’ His remarks were met with a standing ovation. He then told the audience that most terrorists are Muslims, and ‘the less Islam the better.’ In 2009, he sparked controversy for showing a controversial film which linked the Koran to terrorism and has previously said the Netherlands is being taken over by a ‘tsunami of Islamization’. Pamela Geller, the organizer, told CBS 11 from inside the building: ‘I heard officers talking of possible explosions in backpacks and the car. There was talk of a grenade at the nearby Wal-Mart.’
The outspoken leader of Stop Islamisation of America then wrote on her personal website: ‘This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?’ In a post in late March, she insisted that the event was necessary to fight back against what she described as ‘the jihad against freedom’. It was set up by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and had been described by opponents as an attack on Islam. They booked the center a little more than a week after Islamic militants in France killed 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The Garland Independent School district, who own the cultural center, allowed the event to go ahead despite criticism from residents and local Muslims that it was a risk to public safety. The group spent $10,000 on 40 additional security officers, aware of potential threats they may attract, while Garland Police officers were fully prepared to deal with any issues that arose. Before the event, the New York-based organisation made the headlines for its sponsorship of anti-Islamic adverts which it paid to run on transit systems in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and San Francisco.
A picture taken from inside the event just before the attack showed Geller giving a check for $12,500 to Bosch Fawtin who won the event. He told the Dallas Morning News he believed there would be no danger because of the high levels of security surrounding the event. ‘I had known it would be secure, but seeing it is a whole new thing,’ he said before the shootings. Locals in Garland said they were upset with the exhibit being held in their town, and tried to convince the city council to intervene. One resident, Dorothy Brooks, said that the event was like shouting ‘fire!’ in a theater – an oft-cited example of freedom of speech taken too far. She continued: ‘I understand that participants have a right to express themselves with cartoons, but I regret that this will be happening in our city’. Another, Lena Griffin, asked at a city council meeting: ‘Do we want to be involved with this type of rhetoric?’ It is not an issue of free speech but clearly one of public safety.’
The event had already been the subject of disapproval from further afield, according to ForeignPolicy.com. The site obtained a letter from congressmen Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) and André Carson (D-Indiana) sent to John Kerry and Homeland Security asking them to bar a speaker for the event from entering the United States. Caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed have triggered violent protests in the past, including when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published 12 satirical cartoons in 2005, triggering deadly protests in some Muslim countries. In January, just weeks after the Paris attacks, an event called Stand with the Prophet was held in the same center. Muslim leaders from across the world gathered to try and combat ‘Islamophobes in America’ who had turned Muhammad into an ‘object of hate’. Geller spearheaded about 1,000 picketers at the event. One chanted: ‘Go back to your own countries! We don’t want you here!’ Others held signs with messages such as, ‘Insult those who behead others,’ an apparent reference to recent beheadings by the militant group Islamic State. Neither the FBI office in Washington, D.C., nor the Dallas office had any immediate comment on the events in Garland.