Texas shooting: Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest organiser condemn attack as 'war on free speech' after police kill two gunmen
Two gunmen have been shot dead in Texas after attacking an anti-Islamic event exhibiting cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, in what the organiser has called an act of “war on free speech”.
Extra security including SWAT teams had been posted to the event at a school building in the city of Garland, and the event had faced criticism for being openly inflammatory and anti-Islamic.
Police said the incident at around 7pm on Sunday evening lasted “seconds”. Two suspects drove up to the building as the event was ending, got out and open fire with automatic rifles on an unarmed member of the security staff.
Garland police officers opened fire on the shooters, killing both. The security officer was injured in the leg and required hospital treatment, but has since been released. No one else was injured.
The event was organised by Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI) – which has been described as a hate group by civil rights advocates and has previously sponsored anti-Islamic advertising campaigns across the country.
Organisers themselves linked the event heavily to the Charlie Hebdo magazine shootings, when gunmen killed 12 people in Paris over satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed. The venue for Sunday’s event was chosen, Geller said, because it was where American Muslim leaders held a conference on combating Islamophobia a week after the Paris attacks.
In a response to the shooting on its Facebook page, the AFDI posted: “This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”
Garland officials defended allowing the event, which offered a $10,000 prize for the “best” artwork or caricature depicting the Prophet Mohamed, to go ahead despite security concerns
Mayor Douglas Athas told CNN: “There was concern, which is why we had heightened security in the area, but we all swear to uphold the Constitution: free speech, free assembly and in this case perhaps, free religion. So in this case they were free to use the building.”
The event was attended by the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamic campaigner who famously features on a wanted list published by al-Qaeda.
In his speech at the event, shown in a video clip posted on AFDI's website, Dutch politician Wilders claimed that he supported the event because depicting the Prophet and violating one of Islam's greatest taboos was a liberating act.
He said: “Our message today is very simple: we will never allow barbarism, never allow Islam, to rob us of our freedom of speech.”
Most of the 200 or so people at the event were unaware that a shooting had occurred until police entered the building to ask them to remain indoors. The area was later evacuated while officers checked the attackers’ car for explosives, city police spokesman Joe Harn said, though this was described as a “precaution”.
Independent News Service