Federal investigators learned several hours before a provocative cartoon contest in Texas that a man under investigation for extremist activities might show up and alerted local authorities, but had no indication that he planned to attack the event, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday.
The information about Elton Simpson was developed about three hours before the contest, which the FBI had already identified as a potential target for violence because it involved cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Simpson and his roommate, both from Phoenix, opened fire outside the Garland, Texas, event center but were shot dead before they were able to kill anyone.
Simpson, previously convicted in a terrorism-related investigation, had come under new federal scrutiny in recent months related to online posts expressing interest in jihad. When the FBI learned that he could be heading toward the event, the agency sent an intelligence bulletin to police in Garland, including a picture and other information, “even though we didn’t have reason to believe that he was going to attack the event. In fact, we didn’t have reason to believe that he had left Phoenix,” Comey said.
The FBI had been monitoring the event, even establishing a command post at its Dallas field office, based on concerns about the potential for violence. Drawings such as the ones featured at the event are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. Mainstream Islamic tradition holds that any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, even a respectful one, is blasphemous.