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2 Men Shot Dead After Opening Fire Outside Muhammad Art Exhibit In Garland, Texas

by Adam Goldberg via HuffingtonPost.com

Two men have been shot dead after opening fire outside of an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in Garland, Texas, according to reports from WFAA andNBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The two men fired towards the Curtis Culwell Center and hit security guard Bruce Joiner, who was shot in the lower leg and suffered non-life threatening injuries, per WFAA. NBC 5 reports that Joiner has already been released after being taken to a local hospital.

The Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest was organized by Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an anti-Islamic organization that is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The local CBS affiliate also notes the two suspects were shot dead.

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NBC 5 has more details on the Muhammad Art Exhibit:

The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The group claims the event is an effort to stand up against violent intimidation.

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The exhibit, according to CBS DFW, was organized by Geller in response to a Muslim event held earlier this year at the same venue which was meant to combat Islamophobia. A representative of the local Council of American Islamic Relations chapter spoke to the CBS affiliate in February about Geller’s event:

Alia Salem of the DFW Chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations says supports free speech. “We should have free speech, and nobody’s stopping her from doing this, go ahead, maybe there’ll be some Muslims entering this, who knows.”

But Salem says she hopes the Muslim Community will ignore this event. “While it is her right, it’s not really in good taste to be honest because it’s just a shameless attempt to get a reaction out of the Muslim Community, that’s how we view it. It’s not any attempt to promote free speech.”

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) praised the police response to the shooting:

“Texas officials are actively investigating to determine the cause and scope of the senseless attack in Garland, Texas,” Abbott stated. “This is a crime that was quickly ended thanks to the swift action by Garland law enforcement. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those affected tonight.”

MORE FROM THE AP:

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — Two gunmen were killed Sunday in Texas after opening fire on a security officer outside a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad, and a bomb squad was called in to search their vehicle as a precaution, authorities said.

The men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center in the Dallas suburb of Garland as the event was scheduled to end and began shooting at the security officer, the City of Garland said in a statement. Garland police officers returned fire, killing the men.

Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was connected to the event inside, a contest hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

But he said at a late Sunday news conference that authorities were searching the gunmen’s vehicle for explosives, saying, “Because of the situation of what was going on today and the history of what we’ve been told has happened at other events like this, we are considering their car (is) possibly containing a bomb.”

Drawings such at the ones featured at the Texas event 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 Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.

The Curtis Culwell Center, a school-district owned public events space where the Texas event was held, was evacuated after the shooting, as were some surrounding businesses. The evacuation was lifted several hours later and police were not aware of any ongoing threat, but a large area around the center remained blocked off late into the night.

Police helicopters circled overhead as bomb squads worked on the car. Harn said the bodies of the gunmen, who had not yet been identified, were not immediately taken from the scene because they were too close to the car. He said they would be removed once the car was cleared.

The wounded security officer, who was unarmed, worked for the Garland Independent School District, Harn said. He was treated and released from a local hospital.

Harn said the district hires security for events at its facilities, but noted additional security also was in place for Sunday’s event. The sponsoring group has said it paid $10,000 for off-duty police officers and other private security.

Harn said the city had not received any credible threats before the shooting.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said state officials are investigating, and Dallas FBI spokeswoman Katherine Chaumont said that agency is providing investigative and bomb technician assistance.

The event featured speeches by American Freedom Defense Initiative president Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker known for his outspoken criticism of Islam. Wilders received several standing ovations from the crowd and left immediately after his speech.

Wilders, who has advocated closing Dutch doors to migrants from the Islamic world for a decade, has lived under round-the-clock police protection since 2004.

After the shooting, authorities escorted about 75 contest attendees to another room in the conference center, where a woman held up an American flag, and the crowd sang “God Bless America.”

The group was then taken to a separate location, where they were held for about two hours until being briefly questioned by FBI agents before being released.

Johnny Roby of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who was attending the contest, told the Associated Press he was outside the building when he heard around about 20 shots that appeared to be coming from the direction of a passing car.

Roby said he then heard two single shots. He said he heard officers yell that they had the car before he was sent inside the building.

Geller told the AP before Sunday’s event that she planned the contest to make a stand for free speech in response to outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad. She said in a statement issued Sunday night that the shooting showed how “needed our event really was.”

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. Another deadly shooting occurred the following month at a free speech event in Copenhagen featuring an artist who had caricatured the prophet.

Tens of thousands of people rallied around the world to honor the victims and defend the freedom of expression following those shootings.

Geller’s group is known for mounting a campaign against the building of an Islamic center blocks from the World Trade Center site and for buying advertising space in cities across the U.S. criticizing Islam.

When a Chicago-based nonprofit held a January fundraiser in Garland designed to help Muslims combat negative depictions of their faith, Geller spearheaded about 1,000 picketers at the event. One chanted: “Go back to your own countries! We don’t want you here!” Others held signs with messages such as, “Insult those who behead others,” an apparent reference to recent beheadings by the militant group Islamic State.

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