Man tied to cartoon contest attack accessed Islamic State list, authorities say

Investigators box up an assault weapon outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, in May after an attack on a "draw Muhammad" cartoon contest.

Investigators box up an assault weapon outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, in May after an attack on a “draw Muhammad” cartoon contest.

(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

The Arizona man accused of training and arming two men who went on to attack a “draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in Texas has been indicted on charges that he accessed an Islamic State list that recorded the names and home addresses of U.S. service members.

The indictment provides the clearest possible link yet between Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, 44, and the terrorist group, which claimed credit for the attack. Although the indictment does not allege that Kareem communicated directly with the group, the list of military members came from Islamic State. That was enough to lead to charges that he provided material support to Islamic State.

The Justice Department accuses Kareem of traveling to the desert outside Phoenix to help Nadir Soofi, 34, and Elton Simpson, 30, practice with firearms from February 2014 to May 2015.

On May 3, dressed in body armor and armed with three pistols, three rifles and 1,500 rounds of ammunition, Soofi and Simpson opened fire outside the provocative cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, that featured mocking depictions of the prophet Muhammad. A security officer was wounded before they were killed by local police. Police found printed paper Islamic State flags in their car.


Join the conversation on Facebook >>

Physical depictions of Muhammad are considered blasphemous under Islamic tradition. The cartoon contest was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is led by conservative political personality Pamela Geller. The contest came five months after the terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which often published caricatures of Muhammad.

When authorities later searched the Phoenix apartment of Soofi and Simpson, they found a handwritten note with a military member’s name, personal information and home address in Phoenix; the information came from a list maintained by Islamic State, according to the indictment.

Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem in a booking photo from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem in a booking photo from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

(Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.)

Kareem, who remains in custody, was indicted in June on charges of conspiracy, transporting weapons across state lines and giving false statements to investigators. Prosecutors also say that at one point he considered an attack on the Super Bowl, which was held in Phoenix on Feb. 1.

On Wednesday, a grand jury handed down more charges connected to Kareem’s alleged material support of Islamic State. The indictment is the best look yet at allegations of how seriously Kareem believed in the Islamic State cause, and the lengths he went to transform Soofi and Simpson into jihadists.

Kareem began in early February 2014, according to the indictment, by showing the pair wartime footage from Syria and Iraq. He went on to show them “videos depicting torture and executions” committed by Islamic State and other extremist organizations.

NEWSLETTER: Get the day’s top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

“While watching the videos, Kareem exhorted and encouraged Simpson and Soofi to engage in violent activity in the United States to support [Islamic State] and impose retribution for United States military actions in the Middle East,” the indictment says.

By October 2014, Simpson was sharing Islamic State torture videos on Twitter.

While allegedly grooming the eventual shooters, the indictment says, Kareem drove Soofi and Simpson to the desert outside Phoenix to practice with firearms. By December 2014, the trio had advanced to trying to acquire pipe bombs, though the indictment doesn’t specify whom they contacted.

By Feb. 11 of this year, Kareem began to host meetings in his Phoenix home, where the men allegedly chose their target: the Texas cartoon contest to be held three months later. On March 20, Kareem, according to the indictment, accessed the Islamic State list of military members’ home addresses. Islamic State has encouraged followers to use this information to kill U.S. service members; it’s unclear what Kareem, Soofi and Simpson had planned.

Seeking money to help support the attack, the indictment alleges, Kareem pretended to have been struck by a car in a parking lot, then tried to make an insurance claim. The indictment does not clarify whether the insurance claim was successful or whether Kareem faced charges for deceiving an insurance company.

The Justice Department did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday. Kareem’s attorney could not be reached by phone or email.

Soofi’s family blames Simpson for his embrace of extremist religious thoughts, saying he had never done so in the past. But by early May, he was apparently convinced of the rightness of his actions. In a handwritten letter apparently mailed hours before the attack, Soofi said he was inspired by the writings of Islamic cleric Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

“I love you,” Soofi wrote to his mother, Sharon Soofi, “and hope to see you in eternity.”

Twitter: @nigelduara


Immigration officials plan stepped-up deportations for new year

Chicago police were seeking Taser when officer shot Laquan McDonald, recording shows

How Trump’s comments on Muslims fit into the country’s history of religious demagoguery