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Texas Police Were Warned About Gunmen At Muhammad Cartoon Event — And They Weren't

In the May 3 "Draw Muhammad" attack in Garland, Texas, there were some loose ends that got cleared up Monday by local police chief Mitch Bates. Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi from Phoenix were killed by Garland police officers after the two men drove from Arizona and opened fire at the event featuring cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

As NPR reported the next day, the FBI sent Garland police a bulletin about Elton Simpson in the hours just before that attack. But Garland police repeatedly insisted they never got any warning from federal law enforcement about an impending attack. So who's right, the FBI or the Garland Police?

Turns out both are. The FBI learned that Elton Simpson might show up in Garland and that he had become interested in the Muhammad cartoon awards affair. But when the Bureau sent the warning it didn't specifically say that. It simply warned the police about Elton Simpson by providing his name, picture, associates and the license plate number of his car. But no notice that he might be headed that way or planning an attack on the draw-Muhammad gathering.

And the Garland police officer who is a member of the joint FBI terrorism task force and got the email was already at Curtis Culwell Center guarding the 150 or so people gathered in side. The officer never saw it until after the attack.

What does this all mean? Not much says Police Chief Bates, "Please note that the contents of that email would not have prevented the shooting nor would it have changed the law enforcement response in any fashion."

The chief says his department knew Pamela Geller's Muhammad Art Contest was a possible target and had planned for weeks with local, state and federal law enforcement how they were going to proceed. With 40 Garland officers including SWAT and bomb squads, plus FBI, ATF and Garland ISD security officers, they believed, correctly as it turned out, that they had the place adequately protected.

Finally, as to the brave Garland traffic cop who shot the two attackers who were firing at him with semi-automatic assault rifles, he did hit Simpson and Soofi with his Glock sidearm. But Chief Bates made clear that his SWAT team finished the suspects off; saying they were still moving toward weapons in their car when they were killed.

The traffic officer had never before been involved in a shooting.

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Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.
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