The Cable

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Texas Cartoon Attack

It remains unclear whether the group was operationally responsible or whether it is claiming the attack for propaganda purposes.

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In its voluminous propaganda efforts, the Islamic State militant group has repeatedly urged Muslims living in the West to rise up and carry out terrorist attacks against non-believers and their governments. Ensconced in remote parts of Syria and Iraq — and moving into Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula– the group’s leadership has offered two paths to jihad for its sympathizers: Come fight with us or rise up in your homelands. On Tuesday, the group claimed responsibility for its first such attack in the United States, saying its fighters had carried out the Sunday shooting on a cartoon exhibit featuring caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.

But the claim should be taken with a grain of salt: It remains unclear whether the two men who carried out the attack — Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi — had any substantive connections with the group, whether they received training, funds, or arms from it, and whether the Islamic State had instructed the two to carry out the raid at its behest.

Claiming responsibility for an attack within the United States would be a propaganda victory for the group, which has eclipsed al Qaeda as the world’s most prominent jihadist militant organization by aggressively seizing territory and carrying out brazen attacks.

The statement of responsibility described the two shooters as “soldiers of the caliphate” and said the motive for the attack had been offensive drawings of Mohammad on display at the competition, which offered a prize for the best drawing of the leader of the Muslim faith. “We say to the protector of the Cross America that the coming ones are worse and more bitter, and you will see from the soldiers of the Islamic State what will hurt you, Allah permitting,” the group said in its statement, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi groups’ online presence. “Tomorrow comes soon to those who look for it.”

In some ways, the attack in Garland, Texas bears the hallmarks of a lone wolf-style attack that the Islamic State had little involvement in. The two shooters were quickly killed by a lone security guard after opening fire on the building hosting the cartoon competition. The guard was wounded in the exchange of fire that left the gunmen dead. If their plan had been to enter the building and kill large numbers of attendees, it was quite easily foiled. Had they entered the building, they would have encountered a massive security presence of highly armed, well-trained Texas SWAT officers, who have been seen in photos of the event carrying assault rifles and dressed in tactical military gear.

But at least one of the two men was not a newcomer to terrorism. In 2011, Simpson was convicted of lying to federal investigators about plans to travel to Somalia and join a terror group there. While a judge sentenced him to probation for his statements to the FBI, he ruled that the government had not provided sufficient evidence to prove that Simpson had intended to participate in acts of terrorism. At this stage, less is known about the identity of Soofi, who reportedly lived together with Simpson in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sunday’s attack was reminiscent of the January attack on the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 dead. Then, too, jihadist sympathizers attacked individuals perceived to have insulted the prophet by drawing his figure. Two of the attackers in that case said they were affiliated with al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. A third accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in claiming responsibility for an attack on a kosher supermarket and the murder of a policewoman.

Ben Torres/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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