The Islamic State terror group (ISIS) Tuesday issued a claim of responsibility for Sunday’s attack on a Texas cartoon contest featuring images of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
The claim was made in an audio message on the group’s Al Bayan radio station, based in the Syria city of Raqqa, which ISIS has proclaimed to be the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate. It is the first time ISIS has taken credit for an attack on U.S. soil, though it was not immediately clear whether the group’s claim was an opportunistic co-opting of a so-called “lone wolf” attack as its own.
The message described the shooting suspects as “two soldiers of the caliphate” and added “We tell America that what is coming is more bitter and harder and you will see from the soldiers of the Caliphate what harms you.”
The message also said the contest, which was being put on by a group known for controversial rhetoric about Islam, “was portraying negative images of the Prophet Muhammad.”
The contest had been expected to draw outrage from the Muslim community. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous, and drawings similar to those featured at the Texas event have sparked violence around the world.
Authorities say the suspects, identified as Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, drove up to the building where the contest was being held in the Dallas suburb of Garland and opened fire. An unarmed school district security guard was wounded before a Garland police officer returned fire and killed both men.
Officials have not said whether they believe the attack was motivated by terrorism. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday that law enforcement authorities are investigating the men’s motives and all circumstances surrounding the attack.
However, court documents show that Simpson had first been noticed by the FBI in 2006 due to his ties to a a former U.S. Navy sailor who had been arrested in Phoenix and was ultimately convicted of terrorism-related charges. In 2010, Simpson was arrested one day before he was scheduled to fly to South Africa to undertake what he claimed were religious studies at a madrassa. Recordings played at Simpson’s trial indicated that he was using his studies as an excuse to travel to Somalia to link up with militant fighters there.
Despite the more than 1,500 hours of recorded conversations, including Simpson’s discussions about fighting nonbelievers for Allah, whom he referred to as “kuffars” the government prosecuted him on only one minor charge — lying to a federal agent. He faced three years of probation and $600 in fines and court fees.
There have been numerous attacks in Western countries believed related in some way to the group, which holds roughly a third of Iraq and Syria.
In October, Canada was hit by two terror attacks by so-called “lone wolves” believed to have been inspired by the Islamic State group. In Ottawa, a gunman shot and killed a soldier at Canada’s National War Memorial and then stormed Parliament before being gunned down. Two days earlier, a man ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot to death by police.