Elton Simpson of Arizona has been reportedly identified as one of two gunmen who behind Sunday night’s failed attack on a “Draw Mohammed” event in Garland, Texas. The other man involved is believed to have been his roommate in an Phoenix apartment.
Simpson—also known as Ibrahim in the Arizona Muslim community—was a convert to Islam who adopted traditional Arab dress after his conversion, according to a 2010 statement of fact in a federal court document.
A Twitter account reportedly associated with him tweeted about a #texasattack just before the incident. Another tweet said he and his friend had just made ba’yah—or pledged allegiance—to a man they referred to as the “Leader of the faithful.” The title is commonly used to refer to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The account’s avatar was a picture of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-Yemeni cleric who was a member of al Qaeda known for inspiring Americans to commit terrorist attacks, most notably Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood in 2009. (Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.)
Though little is known about the 30-year-old’s past, he has been on the FBI’s radar for at least ten years. The agency first hired an informant to investigate him in 2006, and Simpson’s earlier brushes with the FBI include a 2010 incident when he was detained over alleged plans to attend a madrassa, or a religious school, in Somalia. The war-torn country is the stronghold of al-Shabaab, a militant terrorist group that wants to establish a caliphate.
But Simpson’s roommate, 34-year-old Nadir Soofi didn’t appear to have authorities on his tail. He was a pre-med student at the University of Utah from 1998 to 2003 but dropped out without earning a degree, The Washington Post reported.
Soofi’s Facebook page is littered with pro-Palestine and anti-cop sentiment and photos of his neon-green motorcycle, along with shared posts from Jesse Ventura and okra as a diabetes aid—not exactly the hallmark of a budding jihadist. Other pictures show Soofi on hikes through Arizona with his brothers.
A trip through his previous posts shows a devotion to Islam. He quotes a Muslim scholar railing against canines: “We already know that the Prophet (peace be on him) forbade mixing with dogs, and that he warned against their licking plates and against keeping them without necessity.”
After leaving college, Soofi’s career path included a stint at a dry cleaners, which garnered at least one negative review from customers.
It also appears that Soofi owned a pizza parlor. In January 2013, a federal court ordered a Nadir Soofi to pay $2,001 to a company providing closed-circuit boxing matches. The company filed a suit against Soofi and Cleopatra Bistro Pizza for directing employees “to unlawfully intercept and broadcast” in June 2011.
On Yelp, Soofi thanked a patron for a glowing review, writing, “We are a Muslim establishment which means we carry halal products and are pork-free …. Make sure to try the tandoori with ranch; one of the best tastes we have!”
In August 2013, records show he launched a carpet cleaning business, and even asked more seasoned cleaners for tips in online forums, writing, “I'm a newbie to the carpet cleaning industry and really need your help!”
Meanwhile, in the FBI case against Simpson—bolstered by an informant at his mosque—he was accused of planning to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona.
Simpson’s lawyer, Kristinia Sitton, told the Associated Press on Monday that he was a devout Muslim and respectful of the legal process. She described the 2010 charges as “completely trumped up” to justify the FBI’s probe.
Thanks to an informant at his mosque, Simpson was accused of planning to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona.
“If you get shot, or you get killed, it’s [heaven] straight away,” the FBI quoted Simpson as saying. “[Heaven] that’s what we here for… so why not take that route?”
In taped discussions with the informant, Simpson that he planned to travel to South Africa, and from there make his way to Somalia. When the FBI interrogated him about plans to go to Somalia from the country, he eluded answers, “telling them that because they were the FBI, they already knew.” He denied plans to wage jihad.
Simpson was tried in part for making a false statement to law enforcement. A judge found that he did lie when an agent asked him a yes-or-no question about plans to travel to Somalia, but did not go as far as to take into account his fanatical beliefs.
“The Government has, at best, established that the Defendant, who harbors sympathy and admiration for ‘fighting’ non-Muslims abroad and establishing Shariah law, made a false statement about discussing traveling to Somalia,” Judge Mary H. Murguia found, adding that “abstract beliefs,” though “obnoxious,” can’t be considered in sentencing. The ruling states that even FBI agents “were unsure of the dangerousness of Defendant’s expressed desire to go to Somalia until he denied having discussed traveling there.”
He was found guilty of making a false statement, but the court found that “there is insufficient evidence to support that the false statement ‘involved’ international terrorism.”
In a January 2010 post to an online discussion board for converts to Islam, a man identifying himself as Elton Simpson weighed in on a discussion about martyrs and Islam.
“As for the title ‘The Deeds of Dead Jihadi’ are concerned, we should not use the term ‘dead’ when referring to the Shuhadah(Matryed [sic] Muslims),” he wrote, before quoting a Quranic verse: “And say not of those slain in the way of Allah. ‘They are dead’. Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.” It was posted Jan 16, three days after Simpson was indicted for making a false statement.