The FBI has confirmed Phoenix native Elton Simpson, a Muslim convert from Phoenix, Arizona, as one of the shooters responsible for attacking a Draw Muhammad Contest in Garland, Texas on Sunday. Simpson had been previously convicted of lying to the FBI about his jihadist intentions in 2010. Simpson made multiple pro-Sharia statements then that led the FBI to request, unsuccessfully, that he be placed on a no-fly list.
Simpson had been indicted in January 2010 on charges of lying to the FBI. He was subsequently convicted of lying to law enforcement, but not of planning to engage in violent terrorist activity abroad.
The indictment chronicles recorded conversations from 2005-2010 with an FBI informant named Dabla Deng, who introduced himself to Simpson as someone looking to learn more about Islam. Simpson was not shy about his beliefs, praising those who “fight” for Islam and encouraging Deng to renounce the West.
“They trying to bring democracy over there man, they’re trying to make them live by man-made laws, not by Allah’s laws. That’s why they get fought. You try to make us become slaves to man? No we slave to Allah [sic], we going to fight you to the death,” Simpson told Deng on one of the tapes.
Simpson spoke often of Somalia, and a desire to go there. He told Deng in recorded audio that he was considering traveling to a madrassa in South Africa and making his way up to Somalia to join the terrorist group Al Shabaab. While Al Shabaab has been an Islamist threat for many years, they are most popularly known today for an attack that killed 147 Christian students at Garissa University, Kenya in April, and a 2013 attack on Westgate Mall in the same nation, which brought them to international prominence. Experts warned in April that Al Shabaab is evolving from a local to a “transnational” jihadist threat.
The Court document notes that his repeated references to getting ready to “bounce” to Africa and join the “brothers” prompted FBI officials to attempt to place Simpson on a no-fly list. They failed: “Because the Defendant was being deceptive about the possibility of traveling to Somalia, however, the FBI became concerned that Mr. Simpson in fact did intend to go Somalia to engage in violent jihad. As a result, the agents attempted to prevent or disrupt the Defendant’s travels. The FBI tried, unsuccessfully,to place Mr. Simpson on the no-fly list.”
It is not clear why the application to place Simpson on the no-fly list was rejected. Concerns about Muslims traveling out of the West and into Islamist war zones were lower in 2010, however, at a time when the Islamic State was still an off-shoot of Al Qaeda (they split in 2014).
Simpson was eventually arrested and plainly claimed to have never discussed this issue, the crime for which he was convicted. The court found him guilty of lying about discussing support of jihad, but not of plotting to join or aid a terrorist organization.
The Court writes that “the Government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant’s discussions about traveling to Somalia were related to the political situation Agent Hebert described.” Agent Herbert explained previously in the document how Al Shabaab had developed into a militarized terrorist force in the chaotic Somalian political landscape.
The Court also argues that Simpson’s statements were ambiguous:
It is true that the Defendant had expressed sympathy and admiration for individuals who “fight” non-Muslims as well as his belief in the establishment of Shariah law, all over the world including in Somalia. What precisely was meant by “fighting” whenever he discussed it, however, was not clear. Neither was what the Defendant meant when he stated he wanted to get to the “battlefield” in Somalia.
The official number of Americans who have joined jihadist groups are believed to be in the dozens, particularly the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Read the full Court case against Simpson here: