Doubts raised about Islamic State's claim in Texas attack

Texas Shooting: How Do The Shooters' Families Describe The Gunmen?
PHOENIX (AP) - The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Tuesday for the assault on a Texas cartoon contest that featured images of the Prophet Muhammad, but counterterrorism experts said IS has a history of asserting involvement in attacks in which it had no operational role.

That suggests the two gunmen could have carried out their own lone wolf-style strike before they were shot and killed at the scene of Sunday's shooting in the Dallas suburb of Garland.

Federal officials identified the pair as Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, both Americans who lived in Phoenix.

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Doubts raised about Islamic State's claim in Texas attack
Pakistani residents offer funeral prayers in Peshawar on May 5, 2015, for attackers who were killed when they attempted to storm an anti-Muslim cartoon exhibition in Garland, Texas. The two gunmen shot dead when they attempted to storm an anti-Muslim cartoon exhibition have been identified as roommates from Arizona, one of them a suspected jihadist, reports. Several US media identified the shooters -- killed by police in Garland, Texas outside the event -- as 31-year-old Elton Simpson and 34-year-old Nadir Soofi. AFP PHOTO/ HASHAM AHMED (Photo credit should read HASHAM AHMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani residents shout slogans as they march behind a banner during a protest in Peshawar on May 5, 2015, against the anti-Muslim cartoon exhibition in Garland, Texas. The two gunmen shot dead when they attempted to storm an anti-Muslim cartoon exhibition have been identified as roommates from Arizona, one of them a suspected jihadist, reports. Several US media identified the shooters -- killed by police in Garland, Texas outside the event -- as 31-year-old Elton Simpson and 34-year-old Nadir Soofi. AFP PHOTO/ HASHAM AHMED (Photo credit should read HASHAM AHMED/AFP/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: A member of the FBI Evidence Response Team investigates the media area near the crime scene outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before, on May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and Nadir Soofi opened fire, wounding a security guard. Police officers shot and killed Simpson at the scene. The provocative cartoon event was billed by organizers as a free speech event while critics deemed it to be anti-Islamic. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: A member of the FBI Evidence Response Team investigate the crime scene outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before, on May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and Nadir Soofi opened fire, wounding a security guard. Police officers shot and killed Simpson at the scene. The provocative cartoon event was billed by organizers as a free speech event while critics deemed it to be anti-Islamic. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: A Garland Police car is parked outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' an anti-Islam event, on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and another man opend fire, wounding a security guard . Police officers shot and killed Simpson at teh scene. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: Investigators remove a body as they work a crime scene outside the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' an anti-Islam event, on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and another man opend fire, wounding a security guard . Police officers shot and killed Simpson at teh scene. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team investigate the crime scene outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before, on May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and Nadir Soofi opened fire, wounding a security guard. Police officers shot and killed Simpson at the scene. The provocative cartoon event was billed by organizers as a free speech event while critics deemed it to be anti-Islamic. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: A member of the FBI Evidence Response Team investigates the crime scene outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before, on May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and Nadir Soofi opened fire, wounding a security guard. Police officers shot and killed Simpson at the scene. The provocative cartoon event was billed by organizers as a free speech event while critics deemed it to be anti-Islamic. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
GARLAND, TX - MAY 4: An investigator works a crime scene before the removal a two bodies outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. During the 'Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,' an anti-Islam event, on May 03, Elton Simpson of Phoenix, Arizonia and another man opend fire, wounding a security guard . Police officers shot and killed Simpson at teh scene. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)
Heavy police presence all along North Garland @dallasnews #GarlandShooting http://t.co/kVIolnBjCb
UPDATE: Two men opened fire on Culwell Center, Garland PD shot and killed both men http://t.co/PaWaw5ESyL
Update from the scene of shooting outside an event - the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, TX @NBCDFW http://t.co/35Wb0e5Z8M
Situation in #Garland currently unfolding, business evacuated, streets closed: http://t.co/q5ra0YVuSk http://t.co/6HkVMB6iyH
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Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said a Twitter account linked to Simpson included images of Anwar Awlaki, a radical cleric killed in a CIA drone strike in Yemen.

Among the hashtags used by the account was "#texasattack." And one of the final tweets was: "May Allah accept us as mujahideen," or holy warriors.

"Was he on the radar? Sure he was," McCaul said from Turkey, where he was leading a congressional delegation. "The FBI has got a pretty good program to monitor public social media."

But McCaul said he is not ready to say law enforcement missed any red flags.

The evidence does not indicate the attack was directed by the Islamic State group, "but rather inspired by them," said McCaul, who was briefed on the investigation by federal law enforcement officials. "This is the textbook case of what we're most concerned about."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said U.S. officials are working to counter terrorist efforts to use social media to radicalize individuals in the United States.

IS recently urged those in the United States, Europe and Australia who cannot safely travel to fight in Syria and Iraq to carry out jihad in the countries where they live. An audio statement on the extremist group's Al Bayan radio station called the men "two soldiers of the caliphate."

The shooting appeared to be another example of a "do-it-yourself" jihadist whose plots are often hard for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to stop, said Mitchell Silber, executive managing director for K2 Intelligence and former director of intelligence analysis for the New York City police department.

"It's very tough to detect in advance, which means we are and will continue to be susceptible to lone actors who don't give us much warning to thwart them," he said.

The cartoon contest had been expected to draw outrage from the Muslim community. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad - even a respectful one - is considered blasphemous, and drawings similar to those featured at the Texas event have sparked violence around the world.

The 31-year-old Simpson and 34-year-old Soofi were wearing body armor, and one of the men shot a security officer in the leg before a single Garland police officer fired on the two gunmen. After his initial shots, nearby SWAT officers also fired, authorities said.

The security officer was treated at a hospital and released.

Simpson was arrested in 2010 after being the focus of a four-year terror investigation. But despite amassing more than 1,500 hours of recorded conversations, including Simpson's discussions about fighting nonbelievers for Allah and plans to link up with "brothers" in Somalia, the government prosecuted him on only one minor charge - lying to a federal agent. He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $600 in fines and court fees.

The men were described as amicable and quiet and were sometimes seen feeding stray cats outside their apartment complex.

Simpson had worshipped at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix for about a decade, but he quit showing up over the past two or three months, the president of the mosque told The Associated Press.

The center's president, Usama Shami, said Simpson would play basketball with mosque members and was involved with the community. Soofi owned a nearby pizza business and would stop in to pray occasionally, he said.

"They didn't show any signs of radicalization," Shami said.

Sharon Soofi, the mother of Soofi, told The Dallas Morning News that her son may have somehow snapped.

"The hard thing is to comprehend is why he would do this and leave an 8-year-old son behind," said his mother, who now lives in a small town southwest of Houston.

In a statement released late Monday by Phoenix law firm Osborn Maledon, Simpson's family said it is "struggling to understand" what happened.

"We are sure many people in this country are curious to know if we had any idea of Elton's plans," the statement said. "To that we say, without question, we did not."

Terrorism expert Ben Venzke, who has been tracking terrorist groups for two decades, said jihadists have shifted their tactics to include not only major targets - like al-Qaida's attack on the World Trade Center - but also small ones that are more easily accessible.

In December, for instance, Man Monis, an Iranian-born, self-styled cleric with a long criminal history, took 18 people hostage inside a Sydney cafe, forced them to hold up a flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith and demanded he be delivered a flag of the Islamic State group. Monis and two hostages were killed.

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Watson reported from San Diego.

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Associated Press writers Ken Dilanian, Eric Tucker and Nancy Benac in Washington, Brian Skoloff and Paul Davenport in Phoenix, Jamie Stengle in Garland, Texas, and Hannah Cushman in Chicago contributed to this report.

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