GARLAND, Texas – A police officer who was part of the heavy security for a free-speech event called the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” featuring Dutch politician Geert Wilders was shot shortly after the event ended at approximately 7 p.m. Central Time.
A SWAT officer told WND two suspects “are down,” but law-enforcement officers have put a perimeter around them, fearing they may have explosive devices.
Attendees, including this reporter, have been moved to a secure location at the Curtis Culwell Center in suburban Dallas.
Wilders left the building with members of his permanent Dutch security detail before the shooting.
The condition of the officer is unknown.
A witness of the shooting, John Roby of Oklahoma City, told WND he was heading out to his car when he heard what sounded like automatic-weapon fire coming from a black vehicle on the street outside the center. Immediately, he heard two pistol shots, and a police officer yelled, “We’ve got the car.”
The Curtis Culwell Center was the site of a Jan. 17 event one week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, called “Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect.”
Muslim leaders in the U.S, reacting to the worldwide solidarity with the satirical newspaper that published cartoons of Islam’s founder, said they hoped the event would be the beginning of a “movement” to “defend Prophet Muhammad” and “defeat Islamophobia.”
In January, two French-born Muslims “avenged the prophet” by killing 11 Charlie Hebdo staff members.
On Thursday, a Twitter account purporting to belong to Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, an American jihadi reportedly fighting in Somalia, called for attacks to be carried out in the United States similar to those on Charlie Hebdo.
The following message accompanied a link to a story about the event in Garland Sunday night:
“The brothers from the Charlie hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the #US to do their part.”
The event Sunday featured a keynote by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, who is regarded by the organizers of “Stand With the Prophet” as one of the world’s worst fomenters of “Islamophobia.”
Wilders told the Texas crowd he doesn’t hate Muslims but believes Islam is an existential threat to Western civilization and the Islamization of the West, primarily through immigration, should be aggressively opposed.
He commended the approximately 200 people who attended the event for standing for free speech, greeting them with the familiar slogan “Don’t mess with Texas.”
The host of the Garland event, American Freedom Defense Initiative, is led by author and Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller, and author and Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, who argue their work amounts to citing the justifications from the Quran and other Islamic texts used by Muslims who employ violent acts and other means to assert Islamic supremacy.
There was massive security at the Texas event Sunday, including a SWAT team, a portable police tower, metal detectors inside and blockades outside.
In advance of the exhibit, Officer Joe Harn of the Garland Police Department said: “We’ll be paying attention to any kind of chatter that we need to. If anything raises suspicions, we will react to that.”
As WND reported Thursday, three U.S. congressmen urged Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to deny Wilders a visa ahead of his visit to the U.S. this week, charging alleged ongoing “participation in inciting anti-Muslim aggression and violence.”
Wilders has been under constant security protection since November 2004, when two North African Muslims were accused of planning to murder him and another outspoken critic of Islam in the parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Prior to the Garland event, artnet news editor Sarah Cascone said in a piece published by the Huffington Post that the Muhammad contest it “shameless Muslim-baiting.
But Spencer contends that few people seem to grasp that the “very foundation of what makes for a free society” is at stake.
“Some have said that they cannot support such initiatives because they find the Muhammad cartoons to be in poor taste, and consider them in the same way that Christians regard Piss Christ — it’s legal, but that doesn’t make the people doing it any more admirable than other louts and mockers,” he wrote on his Jihad Watch site.
Spencer contends that that viewpoint essentially is “bowing to violent intimidation” and giving away the authority to decide what is acceptable speech, which is “the road to tyranny.”
“What is at issue here is not being respectful, or refraining from mockery, or deliberately provoking jihadis – what is at issue here is whether the West will submit to murderous threats, which will only lead to more demands for submission and more murderous threats, and whether it will accept Shariah blasphemy laws or stand for a free and genuinely pluralistic society in which people put up with offense even to their core beliefs without resorting to violence or attempts to gain hegemony over the group doing the offending.”
Geller mobilized about 2,000 people to protest the “Stand With the Prophet” event in January.
She said the aim of her event Sunday was “precisely to show that we will not be cowed into silence by this violent intimidation.”
“That is a crucial stand to take as Islamist assaults on the freedom of speech, our most fundamental freedom, are growing more insistent.”
In 2010, she organized a group she estimates was 5,000-strong to march on the site of the proposed “Ground Zero Mosque” near the World Trade Center. The project eventually was canceled.
The ADI art contest echoes Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication in 2005 of editorial cartoons satirizing Muhammad. The move prompted protests throughout the Middle East.
Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Renald Luzier, who designed the front page of the magazine that appeared after the Paris attacks, announced last week he will no longer draw Muhammad.
He insists “the terrorists didn’t win,” explaining that drawing Muhammad “no longer interests me.”
A week after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Australian artist Larry Pickering was put under police protection after threats arose in response to his depiction of Muhammad roasting on a spit as a pig.
In Belgium, a museum canceled an exhibition honoring the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, citing security concerns.
In February, Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous death threats for caricaturing Muhammad, was whisked away from a free-speech event in Copenhagen called “Art, blasphemy and freedom of expression,” after shots were fired. Just hours later, a second shooting outside a Copenhagen synagogue left two dead and five police officers wounded.