One of the gunmen who attacked a cartoon drawing contest in Texas last month had significant ties to Islamic State sympathizers, fighters, and recruiters on Twitter, according to The New York Times.
The Garland, Texas, contest that invited participants to draw the Prophet Mohammed had in fact been advertised as a potential target for those wishing to carry out attacks in the US on behalf of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh). Some Muslims find depictions of the Prophet offensive.
A prominent ISIS recruiter on Twitter, known as Mujahid Miski, tweeted a link to a listing for the contest and encouraged his followers to attack it, according to the Times. One of the Texas gunmen, 30-year-old Elton Simpson, reportedly retweeted it and later reached out to Mujahid Miski to ask that he direct message him privately.
Simpson and another man, Nadir Soofi, opened fire on the contest and shot a security guard before a police officer shot and killed them both.
After the attack, Mujahid Miski tweets implied that he knew Simpson. He reportedly tweeted: “I’m gonna miss Mutawakil. He was truly a man of wisdom. I’m gonna miss his greeting every morning on twitter.”
Simpson, who first came to the attention of the FBI in 2006 before ISIS became prominent on Twitter, also followed other Western ISIS recruits on the social networking site.
J. M. Berger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror,” told the Times that Simpson “was wired into a legitimate foreign fighters network” on Twitter. And Simpson reportedly interacted with fighters who were actually in Syria and Africa, not just ISIS sympathizers living in Western coutnries.
Some fighters tweeted biographical information about Simpson after that attack that hadn’t yet been public knowledge, according to the Times. This suggests he had personal contact with them.
Simpson pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Twitter before the attack. It’s unlikely that he was in direct contact with core leaders of ISIS, but the Texas attack still highlights the growing threat of “lone wolf” terrorists who might easily be inspired to carry out attacks after consuming jihadist content online and establishing contact with recruiters on social media.
The US government is now scrambling to contain this threat. Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a panel called “Jihad 2.0: Social Media in the Next Evolution of Terrorist Recruitment.”
Berger and his co-author wrote in their book that “what ISIS has accomplished so far will have long-term ramifications for jihadist and other extremist movements that may learn from its tactics.”
“A hybrid of terrorism and insurgency, the former al Qaeda affiliate, booted out of that group in part due to its excessive brutality, is rewriting the playbook for extremism,” he wrote.
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