Texas police have shot dead two gunmen who opened fire on Sunday outside an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad that was organized by an anti-Islamic group and billed as a free-speech event.
The shooting in a Dallas suburb was an echo of past attacks or threats in other Western countries against art depicting the Prophet Mohammad. In January, gunmen killed 12 people in the Paris offices of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in revenge for its cartoons.
Sunday’s attack took place at about 7 p.m. in a parking lot of the Curtis Culwell Center, an indoor arena in Garland, northeast of Dallas. Geert Wilders, a polarizing Dutch politician and anti-Islamic campaigner who is on an al Qaeda hit list, was among the speakers at the event.
Police said they had not determined the identity of the two gunmen or whether they were linked to critics of the event who had branded it anti-Islamic.
As a precaution, a police bomb squad was checking the suspects’ car, and the immediate vicinity of the Culwell Center was evacuated, city police spokesman, Joe Harn said.
Investigators were keeping their distance from the bodies of the gunmen, which were close to the car, until the vehicle was deemed clear of explosives, he said later.
Shortly before midnight police alerted media that a strong electronic pulse would be activated near the scene, presumably as part of the bomb squad’s work, and a loud boom was heard moments later, though police did not comment further on what was done.
The exhibit was organized by Pamela Geller, President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). Her organization, which is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, has sponsored anti-Islamic advertising campaigns in transit systems across the country.
Organizers of the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” said that the event was to promote freedom of expression. They offered a $10,000 prize for the best artwork or cartoon depicting the Prophet, as well as a $2,500 “People’s Choice Award.”
Depictions of the Prophet Mohammad are viewed as offensive in Islam, and Western art that portrays the Prophet has sometimes angered Muslims and provoked threats and attacks from radicals.