Multiple law enforcement sources tell the Los Angeles Times that it is unlikely that the Islamic State had a direct hand in organizing the attack on a Draw Muhammad Contest in Garland, Texas, on May 3, instead playing a more “inspirational” role on Twitter.
After days of speculation surrounding the role of the terrorist group in encouraging Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi to drive from Phoenix, Arizona, to Garland and attempt a mass murder at the event, signs increasingly point to the Islamic State not playing as prominent a role as the group has claimed in communiques following the shooting.
The Islamic State took credit for the attack, which left only the two gunmen dead and one policeman injured, in an audio clip released this week. In a subsequent written statement, “Islamic State in America” alleged it had at least 71 operatives prepared to strike as Simpson and Soofi did.
“At this point he’s a lone wolf,” said one unnamed investigator of Simpson, who is the one in the pair known to have interacted with jihadis on Twitter. The LA Times notes that he added that the Islamic State is “not at this point” believed to have played a major role in the plot. The clearest evidence to ties with ISIS, the official added, were conversations on Twitter with known jihadists working with the group, but the newspaper notes that “investigators have not nailed down a direct link between what the groups were telling him and what happened when he and an accomplice tried to shoot their way into the cartoon convention on Sunday.”
Another official told the LA Times that the ISIS statements were “more rhetoric” than reality.
The sentiments echo those of officials speaking to Reuters this week, as well, noting that the Islamic State may have played an “inspirational,” but not “operational,” role in the attack.
Experts not currently working in law enforcement seem to agree. As terrorism expert Tim Clemente told CNN that not only does it appears that Simpson and Soofi were not working for the Islamic State, but that their attack was a way of “kind of applying for membership into ISIS.” ABC News reported on Thursday that evidence in direct messages with jihadis shows that Simpson had discussed traveling to Syria to join ISIS.
Simpson was convicted in 2010 of lying to the FBI after telling an informant on tape that he was looking to “bounce” to Somalia and join the terrorist group al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, a rival group to ISIS. At the time, however, the Islamic State was still technically a subsidiary and not an al-Qaeda competitor.