Basic facts crucial on shooting outside Texas contest for cartoons depicting Muhammad

Violence tied to a contest for images depicting Islam's Prophet Muhammad is making headlines this morning:

The latest news from The Associated Press:

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — Two gunmen were killed Sunday after opening fire on a security officer outside a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad in Texas and a bomb squad was called in to search their vehicle as a precaution, authorities said.
The men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center in the Dallas suburb of Garland as the contest was scheduled to end and began shooting at a security officer, the City of Garland said in a statement. Garland police officers returned fire, killing the men.
"Because of the situation of what was going on today and the history of what we've been told has happened at other events like this, we are considering their car (is) possibly containing a bomb," Officer Joe Harn, a spokesman for the Garland Police Department, said at a news conference.
Police are not aware of any ongoing threat and had not received any credible threats before the event, Harn said.
Harn said it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was connected to the event inside, a contest hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Such drawings are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

Before the shooting, the scene was unremarkable outside the Culwell Center, except for the thick security that included Garland police, school district security and private guards.
“We were expecting protests outside the building,” (event attendee Stephen) Perkins said.
But Alia Salem, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Dallas-Fort Worth, said she and other Muslims had wanted nothing to do with the event.
“We were actively ignoring and encouraging the community to ignore it,” she said. “We did not want to be the bearers of any kind of incitement.”
Imam Zia Sheikh of the Irving Islamic Center wrote online that though he was waiting to see how the facts unfold, “as of now condemning any act of terror. No justification whatsoever.”
“Seems like a lone wolf type of attack. Just what we didn’t want,” he wrote.

As this story develops, presenting basic facts will be crucial for media coverage.

Among the key questions that will be important for reporters to address:

• • •

1. What do Muslims believe concerning artistic depictions of Muhammad?

This is a question that CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke addressed after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris back in January:

Already today, CNN has updated Burke's previous report, and it's worth a read.

• • •

2. Who were the gunmen who opened fire, and what ties, if any, do they have to a terrorist group?

ABC News is reporting that a suspect in the Texas attack was previously the subject of a terror investigation:

From ABC:

One of the suspects in the shooting in Garland, Texas, late Sunday has been identified as Elton Simpson, an Arizona man who was previously the subject of a terror investigation, according to a senior FBI official.
Overnight and today FBI agents and a bomb squad were at Simpson's home in an apartment complex in north Phoenix where a robot is believed to be conducting an initial search of the apartment.
Officials believe Simpson is the person who sent out several Twitter messages prior to the attack on Sunday, in the last one using the hashtag #TexasAttack about half an hour before the shooting.

• • •

3. What is the American Freedom Defense Initiative?

The Wall Street Journal provides this background:

The American Freedom Defense Initiative describes itself as an activist human-rights organization that fights Islamic extremism. It may be best known for being active in a 2010 fight against the construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the site of the former World Trade Center.
Some critics have characterized the group as needlessly provocative, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lists it as an “active anti-Muslim” extremist group. The group has launched controversial ad campaigns around the country that it says are aimed at raising awareness of the threat of jihad.
Recently, the group has been embroiled in controversy with New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Last year, the MTA refused to run an ad by the group, citing security concerns. That ad attempted parody: “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah,” and attributed the line to “Hamas MTV.” Beneath the quotation, the ad read: “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”
In April, a federal judge in Manhattan sided with the group and ruled that the ad qualified as constitutionally protected speech. But the board of the MTA voted in April to ban political and other potentially controversial noncommercial ads on buses and trains.

Like the Journal, a number of other news organizations are citing the Southern Poverty Law Center's classification of the American Freedom Defense Initiative as an extremist group.

However, as GetReligion has noted previously, the Southern Poverty Law Center itself has drawn complaints.

In a letter last year, the leaders of 15 conservative and/or Christian groups — such as the Family Research Council, the Traditional Values Coalition and the Alliance Defending Freedom — argued that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled many organizations as hate groups because "they are ardent defenders of marriage and sexuality as defined by the Christian and Hebrew Bible." The letter also accused the SPLC of "stalking and bullying" its political opponents.

Here at GetReligion, we'll provide more analysis as the Texas story develops.

If you see coverage worth noting — good or bad — please leave a comment or tweet us at @getreligion.

Please respect our Commenting Policy