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Texas shooting: FBI had monitored gunman Elton Simpson since 2006


umbertino
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Islamic State claims responsibility for attack as details emerge about gunmen who opened fire at event near Dallas

 

 

Staff and agencies

 

Tuesday 5 May 2015 10.03 BST

 

 

 

US federal agents had for years monitored Elton Simpson, one of the two gunmen who were shot dead after opening fire with assault rifles at a heavily guarded Texas exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

 

Government sources said the gunmen were roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi of Phoenix. Court documents show Simpson had been under surveillance since 2006 and convicted in 2011 of lying to FBI agents over his desire to join violent jihad in Somalia.

 

Islamic State says it was behind Sunday’s attack – the first time it has claimed responsibility for an attack in the US.

 

FBI agents and police on Monday searched the two men’s home at the Autumn Ridge Apartments in north-central Phoenix, cordoning off the complex and evacuating residents for several hours in the early morning.

 

The incident on Sunday unfolded when a car drove up behind an indoor arena in Garland, where 200 people were attending an event featuring caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Two men jumped out and fired at a police car standing guard. A police officer returned fire, killing both of them, while a security guard was wounded.

 

As the investigation continued, details of the men involved began to emerge.

 

Simpson, described as quiet and devout, had been on the radar of law enforcement because of his social media presence, but authorities did not have an indication that he was plotting an attack, said one federal official familiar with the investigation. Less was known about Soofi, who had no criminal record, according to a search of federal court records.

 

Simpson had worshipped at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix for about a decade but quit showing up over the past two or three months, the president of the mosque told the Associated Press.

 

He had been convicted in 2011 of lying to FBI officials over discussions he had with an informant about his desire to travel to Somalia to engage in violent jihad.

 

According to court records Simpson waived his right to a jury trial and was tried before US District Judge Mary Murguia, who found him guilty of making a false statement. She said there was insufficient evidence to conclude the false statement involved international terrorism.

 

He was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $600 in fines and penalties.

 

The court documents say federal authorities began monitoring Simpson in 2006 because he was associated with an individual the FBI believed was trying to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona. At one point, according to the documents, the FBI tried “unsuccessfully” to put Simpson on a US government no-fly list.

 

Simpson’s father told ABC News his son was “always a good kid” but said they had “some very serious differences”.

 

“We are Americans and we believe in America,” Dunston Simpson told ABC News. “What my son did reflects very badly on my family.”

 

A convert to Islam, Simpson first attracted the FBI’s attention because of his ties to Hassan Abu Jihaad, a former US navy sailor who had been arrested in Phoenix and was ultimately convicted of terrorism-related charges, according to court records. Jihaad was accused of leaking details about his ship’s movements to operators of a website in London that openly espoused violent jihad against the US.

 

In the fall of that year the FBI asked one of its informants to befriend Simpson, pose as a recent convert to Islam and ask for advice about the religion. Over the next few years the informant would secretly record his conversations with Simpson, accumulating more than 1,500 hours of audio, according to court records.

 

“I’m telling you, man, we can make it to the battlefield,” Simpson is recorded saying on 29 May 2009. “It’s time to roll.”

 

In court prosecutors presented only 17 minutes and 31 seconds during Simpson’s trial, according to court documents.

 

Simpson’s attorney, Kristina Sitton, told the Associated Press: “I have to say that I felt like these charges were completely trumped up, that they were just trying to cover up what had been a very long and expensive investigation and they just couldn’t leave without some sort of charges.”

 

Sitton described Simpson as so devout that he would not shake her hand and would sometimes interrupt their legal meetings so he could pray. She said she had no indication that he was capable of violence and assumed he just “snapped”.

 

Soofi appeared to have never been prosecuted in federal court, according to a search of records. Sharon Soofi, his mother, who lives in a small town south-west of Houston, told the Dallas Morning News that she had no idea that he would turn to violence.

 

She said her son was “raised in a normal American fashion” and “was very politically involved with the Middle East. Just aware of what’s going on.”

 

“I don’t know if something snapped,” she said.

 

She said the last time she had communicated with her son was last month, sending a text to wish her grandson a happy birthday.

 

“He put his son above everything, I thought,” she told the newspaper. “The hard thing is to comprehend is why he would do this and leave an eight-year-old son behind.”

 

In Phoenix policed searched the men’s apartment and a white van that was parked outside with its side windows broken.

 

Bob Kieckhafer, 54, who lives one floor above and across from the apartment that was searched, said FBI and other law enforcement in Swat gear evacuated people in the building at 11pm late on Sunday and did not let them back until 4am on Monday.

 

He said two men lived in the apartment that was being searched. He described the men as “just like your next-door-neighbour type of guys”.

 

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on its radio station on Tuesday. “Two of the soldiers of the caliphate executed an attack on an art exhibit in Garland, Texas, and this exhibit was portraying negative pictures of the Prophet Muhammed,” the group said.

 

“We tell America that what is coming will be even bigger and more bitter, and that you will see the soldiers of the Islamic State do terrible things,” it added.

 

The statement did not provide details and it was unclear whether the group was opportunistically claiming the attack as its own.

 

US government sources close to the case said investigators were scouring electronic communications sent and received by the dead suspects to look for evidence of contacts between them and militant groups overseas, most notably Isis.

 

The shooting incident in the Dallas suburb of Garland was an echo of past attacks or threats in other western countries against images depicting Muhammad. In January gunmen killed 12 people in the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in what was said to be revenge for its cartoons.

 

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report

 

 

 

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Picture thought to be of Elton Simpson Photograph: Obtained By ABC News

 

 

 

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Law enforcement officers at the Autumn Ridge apartment complex where Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi lived. Photograph: Nancy Wiechec/Reuters

 

 

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/05/elton-simpson-fbi-had-monitored-texas-gunman-since-2006

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