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Violence Connected to Images of Mohammed Arrives in the United States

Two gunmen were killed outside an event celebrating depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

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Violence connected to images depicting the Prophet Mohammed has arrived on American shores.

Five months after an attack at the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and four months after a shooting at a free speech event in Copenhagen, two gunmen were shot and killed outside of a cartoon exhibit and contest near Dallas late Sunday evening. While the motive for the attack is unclear, one of the event’s keynote speakers, Dutch parliament member Geert Wilders, has been denounced by Islamist groups for his criticisms of the Muslim presence in Europe, and its organizer, Pamela Geller, is a long time critic of Islam. Two Democratic lawmakers recently asked the White House to ban Wilders from entering the United States.

It remains unclear whether the shooting is connected to broader extremist Islamic movements like the Islamic State or al Qaeda. Some Twitter posts by users associated with the group denounced the event in advance. Citing FBI sources, ABC news reported one of the gunmen is Elton Simpson, a target of previous terrorism related investigations. He had previously Tweeted using the hashtag #texasattacks.

The identity of the second gunman is still unknown. Simpson was convicted of lying to federal agents about traveling to Africa to join a terrorist group, according to ABC. A White House official told Foreign Policy that President Barack Obama has been briefed on the shooting, but did not offer additional comment.

The attack took place around 7 p.m. Sunday evening at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, a town about 20 miles outside of Dallas. It was billed as the “Jihad Watch Mohammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest.” Its organizer, Geller, is the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group.

Geller has drawn controversy in the past for her opposition to a mosque near site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan. On her blog and elsewhere she has warned of what she calls the “Islamization” of America.

The FBI raided an apartment in Phoenix as part of its investigation. Bruce Joiner, an officer providing security at the event, was shot as the two gunmen fired from their car but has been treated at a hospital and released. Early Monday, the bodies of the attackers remained in the vehicle as authorities searched for bombs in and around the car.

The event took place under heavy security. Just before the shooting, Wilders posted a picture of himself standing with a SWAT team he said was monitoring the event, hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The group promised a $10,000 reward for the best depiction of Mohammed.

While the Quran does not explicitly ban depicting Mohammed, it is a highly sensitive issue and generally frowned upon in modern Islamic tradition. Many Muslims consider it blasphemous.

Americans have stirred the pot in the past when it comes to depictions of Mohammed. In 2012, protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo after Mark Basseley Youssef, a U.S. resident, released the anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims.” Violence in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens dead was also connected to the low-budget film.

Photo Credit: Brandon Wade/Associated Press

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