A powerful U.S. senator has launched an investigation into whether the FBI knew about a planned attack by ISIS-inspired terrorists at an anti-Muslim cartoon show in the Dallas area and did nothing to stop it -- and also misled the lawmaker about circumstances of the 2015 attack.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said he learned from a recent national media report that the FBI was tailing the two terrorists, Elton Simpson, 31, and Nadir Soofi, 34, and an agent was just steps away when the pair jumped from their car and began shooting at police guarding the "Draw Mohammad" event at the Curtis Culwell Center in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Texas. The terrorists, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, struck Bruce Joiner, an unarmed security guard, in the leg, before snipers killed them. The attack was significant because it was the first that the Islamic State took credit for on U.S. soil. Soofi and Simpson had been in touch with an ISIS recruiter in Somalia.
“It is concerning that when I wrote to the FBI and Department of Justice, they never told me about the fact that they had some FBI asset, whether it was an agent or informant, tailing Soofi and Simpson,” said Johnson.
“Why didn’t they intervene? As a member of the Senate oversight committee, I think these agencies should be honest when we actually ask them the questions. But it begs the question, what was the FBI doing in Garland, and why wasn’t the agency direct with me when we first started writing letters about this back in 2015?”
Johnson is referring to two individuals who had prior contact with the shooters. One was a paid FBI informant, the other an FBI undercover agent.
Ten days before the attack Simpson hooked up with an FBI undercover informant via the internet, according to an FBI affidavit filed by Agent Shawn Scott Hare in August 2016. The affidavit was filed in a case against Erick Jamal Hendricks, a North Carolina man charged with conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State.
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The affidavit reveals the FBI was aware on May 2, the day before the attack, that Soofi and Simpson were headed to Garland to attend the Draw the Prophet Muhammad Event.
According to the criminal complaint, Hendricks directed the FBI informant to join them there, and allegedly said: "If you see that pig (meaning the organizer of the contest) make your 'voice' heard against her."
Hendricks also asked him a series of questions related to security at the event, including: "How big is the gathering?" "How many ppl?" "How many police/agents?" "Do you see feds there?' "Do you see snipers?" and "How many media?"
The informant was there, parked behind Simpson and Soofi, when they opened fire.
Together, Soofi and Simpson had amassed 1,000 rounds of ammunition, six different weapons, plus body armor and were carrying a copy of an Islamic State flag, Johnson said.
“All I know is we don’t have the straight story from the FBI,” Johnson said. “We are just so fortunate that local law enforcement was able to take care of the situation to prevent another mass attack. This was a real tragedy averted.”
U.S. FBI director James Comey speaks to media at the headquarters of the Romanian Information Service (SRI) with the head of the Romanian service Eduard Hellvig, in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2015. The FBI chief said cyber security and fighting corruption and terrorism are priorities for the U.S. and Romania, a key partner in the region. (AP Photo/Octav Ganea, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT (The Associated Press)
On March 26, “60 Minutes” first reported that the FBI had been monitoring Simpson for years, that an FBI agent was tailing the terrorists and took cell phone footage of the shooting from 30 feet away. Police apprehended and handcuffed the FBI undercover agent as he fled the scene.
Johnson said he shouldn’t be learning about the facts of the event two years later, and from the media.
“This is not something that should be revealed on ‘60 Minutes’,” Johnson said. “This should be something that the FBI comes forward and tells the oversight committee.”
Johnson also is questioning the FBI’s hiring of an informant, identified as Dabla Deng, who was paid $132,000 for befriending Simpson while also taping their conversations for more than 1,500 hours. The three men -- Deng, Simpson and Soofi -- went shooting in the desert several times, according to court records and Simpson had been under investigation and at times surveillance, since 2006.
Despite this information -- and that of the FBI informant on scene -- a spokesperson for the FBI National Press Office told Fox News, "There was no advance knowledge of a plot to attack the cartoon drawing contest in Garland, Texas.”
Even though chatter among Islamic State supporters leading up to the event hinted at a planned attack, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials dismissed any threat to the event in a "Joint Intelligence Bulletin" to local law enforcement four days after the attack.
Local law enforcement officials were adamant they did not receive any intelligence from the FBI indicating a direct threat to the event, yet the FBI claims it “sent a bulletin to Garland police hours before the event, warning that Simpson -- whom the Justice Department had already unsuccessfully prosecuted previously for his role in a terror cell -- might be on his way to the Garland event, even including his photo and his license plate number,” PJMedia.com reported.
Johnson also questioned whether one of the handguns purchased by Soofi in 2010 in Phoenix had any connection to the Obama administration’s botched Operation Fast and Furious. The weapon was the subject to an “urgent” firearms disposition request by the Department of Justice on May 4, 2015, the day after the attack in Garland, Johnson said.
“We’ve been trying to have oversight on all of these terrorists attacks in the United States, so we can do an after-action report to see if some of the FBI procedures should be changed so we can prevent these things from happening in the future,” Johnson said.
Malia Zimmerman is an award-winning investigative reporter focusing on crime, homeland security, illegal immigration crime, terrorism and political corruption. Follow her on twitter at @MaliaMZimmerman