Authorities have identified one of the alleged shooters at the shooting at a Garland, Texas, community center yesterday as Elton Simpson, a 30-year-old resident of Phoenix, Arizona. He and an accomplice, identified as 34-year-old Nadir Soofi, who was reportedly Simpson’s roommate, are the 33rd and 34th Americans linked to terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism this year, and their shooting marks the eighth domestic terror plot motivated by Islamic extremism in 2015. These numbers represent a significant spike over previous years, and are likely related at least in part to the extensive and sophisticated online propaganda campaigns promoted by ISIS and its supporters.
Simpson maintained an active presence on Twitter, with at least 8 accounts that he used to network with ISIS supporters and share extremist ideas. Prior to the attack, ADL had been monitoring at least one account believed to be his, under the name “Sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] is Light.” His profile picture was that of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American propagandist for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, killed in 2011, who is regularly quoted in terrorist circles and has been cited as an inspiration by many American Islamic extremists. Simpson used the profile to tweet propaganda favoring the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as to share the names of new ISIS supporter accounts that replaced accounts previously suspended for promoting terrorism.
In recent days, terror supporters on Twitter had been calling for violence against the event in Texas, which featured anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, as well as a contest in which participants were asked to draw cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohamed. One ISIS supporter, for example, tweeted, “Brothers in Garland Texas Please go to there with your weapons, bombs or with your knives. Threaten your enemies & the enemies of Allaah,” and, “I think thy forgt the previous attack [against the Charlie Hebdo magazine, which printed cartoons about Mohamed] done by our french bros, walahi [indeed] we wil kill u if u dare to insult our Prophet. Following the attack, that same individual tweeted that Simpson “was favouriting my stuff about the Texas event.”
About half an hour before the shooting, Simpson appeared to claim responsibility on Twitter, writing, “The bro with me and myself have given bay’ah [allegiance] to Amirul Mu’mineen [literally ‘Prince of the Believers,’ a reference to the Caliph and, in context, to the head of ISIS]. May Allah accept us as mujahideen [fighters]. Make dua [prayer] #texasattack.”
ISIS and its supporters have been vocal in calling for homegrown attacks against Western countries and have used the purported defamation of Muhammad as a rationale for violence. Following the Paris attacks against the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket, ISIS supporters launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #FightforHim, ‘him’ being a reference to Muhammad, advocating “the duty of killing those who insult our Prophet Muhammad.”
Simpson had been under investigation for terrorist activity in the past. In 2009, he allegedly indicated interest in Al Shabaab, the Somali Al Qaeda affiliate, telling an informant, "It's time to go to Somalia, brother. We know plenty of brothers from Somalia. We're going to make it to the battlefield. It's time to roll." He was arrested in 2010 and found guilty of making false statements to federal agents, after which he was sentenced to three years’ probation.
Since 2014, ISIS has succeeded Al Shabaab as the foremost recruiter of American militants. A number of Americans who previously supported Al Shabaab, including Americans who joined Al Shabaab and act as recruiters from abroad, have since become advocates for ISIS.