Two killed in gunfight outside Muhammad cartoon contest

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Dallas shooting

Police suspect vehicle may have carried a bomb

By Victor Morton – 
DALLAS — Police in a Dallas suburb killed two men in a car during a gun battle as they attacked a Muhammad-cartoon drawing contest.

As the event at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland was ending, “two males drove up to the front of the building in a car,” according to a statement Sunday night by the city of Garland.

“Both males were armed and began shooting at a Garland ISD security officer. Garland Police engaged the gunmen who were both shot and killed,” the statement said.

One guard, who worked for the Garland ISD, was wounded in the melee, which was held under tight security.

Police had neither identified either suspect around 10:30 p.m. CDT Sunday nor were aware of specific prior threats resembling what happened Sunday, according to Officer Joe Harn, a Garland PD spokesman.

More than 40 extra officers assigned to the event at the expense of the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative, which was awarding $10,000 prize would be awarded for the best cartoon depicting Muhammad.

Multiple nearby businesses also were evacuated.

The city’s statement said the vehicle may have been intended for use as a car bomb.

“Police suspect the vehicle may have carried an incendiary device and the bomb squad is on the scene,” the city said.

Officer Harn said the car was being inspected as a precaution given the circumstances.

The city did not explicitly say whether the contest, led by conservative anti-Shariah activist Pamela Gellar and with Dutch ally Geert Wilders also present, was the intended target. Both Ms. Gellar and Mr. Wilders have been the target of both death threats by Muslims and attacks by liberals as hatemongers.

Muhammad drawings have resulted in several fatal attacks by Muslims in Europe and the Middle East.

Robert Spencer, co-founder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, blamed the attacks on the environment cultivated by all forms of Islam.

“The shooting outside our free speech event shows once again that moderate Muslims are unable or unwilling to rein in their violent brethren,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday night.

An officer dressed in SWAT gear took the stage around 7 p.m. CDT near the end of the event and told attendees, including an Associated Press reporter, that a shooting had occurred and everyone had to be evacuated.

About 75 attendees were taken to another room. Later, a group of 48 people were escorted to a school bus. Authorities told attendees they would be taken to a nearby high school. A second group was set to be moved shortly after.

“Right when we were beginning to drive away, we heard gunshots,” attendee Cynthia Belisle told NBC News. “We thought they were fireworks, but they were not.”

Mr. Wilders tweeted from inside the event that the attack was ongoing and that he was leaving the building. He tweeted a photo of himself surrounded by camouflaged men that he said was taken just before the shooting began.

“Thank God the heroes of SWAT-team prevented the worst,” he wrote.

Muhammad drawings are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the man Islam reveres as God’s final prophet — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.

In January, 12 people were killed by gunmen in an attack against the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam and other religions and used depictions of Muhammad.

There was a quick claim of responsibility by a Muslim twitter account called “Shariah Is Light,” which uses as its avatar Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam who blessed the underwear bomber in Detroit and Fort Hood attacker Maj. Nidal Hasan.

“The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah to Amirul Mu’mineen. May Allah accept us as mujahideen. Make dua #texasattack,” the account wrote at 6:35 p.m. Sunday, apparently before the Texas attack.

The term “bay’ah” is the Muslim word for a solemn oath of allegiance, and “make dua” refers to an act of prayer and/or supplication before God.

The claim could not be independently verified, but the account had long been sharply critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and was not established Sunday for the purpose of trolling after the attacks became public knowledge.

Another Twitter account known for pro-Islamic State sympathies went into divine praise for the attack.

“Allahu Akbar!!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire at the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) art exhibition in texas! #TexasAttack,” wrote AbuHussainAlBritani before the account was suspended.

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.