Authorities in Texas say that one of two terrorists who died in a shootout with police late Sunday outside a Muhammad cartoon contest was well known to federal prosecutors who three years ago asked a judge to sentence him to up to eight years in prison on charges related to terrorism. That judge — Mary Murguia of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, an Obama appointee — said the prosecutors didn’t make their case and, according to Vocativ, let the man, Elton Simpson, remain free on three years probation, despite recorded conversations in which he reportedly discussed waging jihad.
Officials have identified Simpson, a convert to Islam, as one of a pair of gunmen who began shooting outside a Garland, Tx., meeting center where several hundred people had gathered for a so-called “free speech event” at which a $10,000 award was to be handed out for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. As Western Journalism reported earlier on Monday, the American Freedom Defense Initiative was hosting the event. A security guard was wounded in the ankle by the gunmen, then other officers returned fire and killed the attackers before they could hurt anyone else.
Now Vocativ reports that Simpson became the target of an FBI investigation in 2006 “after he was found to be in contact with a man who authorities believe was attempting to set up a terror cell in Phoenix, Arizona.” That’s when a paid informant began recording hundreds of hours of conversations with Simpson. Those conversations reportedly included Simpson telling the informant in 2009, “‘It’s time to go to Somalia, brother,’ before explaining, ‘we gonna make it to the battlefield…it’s time to roll,’” as the Vocativ article explains.
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When he denied to federal agents that he had made such a statement, Simpson was accused of lying to authorities and, in 2011, was convicted of making a false statement. Federal prosecutors asked Judge Murguia to slap him with a stiff prison term because of his ties to terrorism. According to the Vocativ coverage:
Federal prosecutors wanted Simpson to receive the beefed-up sentence of eight years because, they argued, his crime of lying to federal authorities involved terrorism. But Judge Murguia—an Obama appointee on what is often considered to be the most left-leaning appeals court in the country—found that there was insufficient evidence that Simpson’s false statement to authorities involved international terrorism.
WFAA-TV quotes from the judge’s order denying the prosecutors’ request to lock up Elton Simpson, who allegedly went on to become the kind of terror threat the Obama-appointed judge said the federal case at the time failed to establish he would be:
The Government has not established that the selected statements of the defendant (Simpson), presented without further context or explanation, establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was or planned to be involved in violent acts dangerous to human life, appeared to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
On Sunday — shortly before the attack at the Muhammad cartoon event, as The New York Daily News notes — Simpson is said to have used an alias to send out a Twitter message that read, in part, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.”
The second attacker shot dead in the Texas terror assault has now been identified as Simpson’s Muslim roommate in Phoenix. Both men had opened fire with assault rifles before being dropped by police.