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Police: No explosives found in car used in Texas attack

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 5/4/2015 By NOMAAN MERCHANT and JAMIE STENGLE, Associated Press
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Update: This is a developing story.

FBI agents in Phoenix are now looking at a second vehicle parked at the complex apartment where a unit is being searched as part of the investigation into a shooting outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.

Agents had broken into a white minivan and spent hours looking at it, taking pictures and removing items. They're also are examining and photographing pages of a notebook or papers in the trunk of a second vehicle, a silver sedan. The sedan is parked in a covered spot near the building where the apartment is located.

Meanwhile, other FBI agents are knocking on the doors of other apartments to interview residents as Phoenix Police Department bomb squad members wearing protective armor and helmets continue to go in and out of the apartment being searched.

Previous story below:

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — U.S. agents searched an apartment in Phoenix as part of an investigation into a shooting outside a suburban Dallas venue hosting a provocative contest for Prophet Muhammad cartoons, the FBI confirmed Monday.

A police officer shot and killed two gunmen who opened fire outside the event Sunday night. A security officer was wounded in the shooting.

Garland police officer Joe Harn says the men had used assault rifles, and that one officer had fatally shot both gunmen. Harn also said investigators searched the men's car and detonated several suspicious items, but no bombs were found in the vehicle.

"We were able to stop those men before they were able to penetrate the area and shoot anyone else," Harn said.

The event Sunday featured speeches by American Freedom Defense Initiative president Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker known for his outspoken criticism of Islam. Wilders received several standing ovations from the crowd and left immediately after his speech.

Wilders, who has advocated closing Dutch doors to migrants from the Islamic world for a decade, has lived under round-the-clock police protection since 2004.

The FBI said the Phoenix residence was being searched for indications of what prompted the attack, and FBI spokeswoman Katherine Chaumont said no other locations in Phoenix are being investigated.

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Agents could be seen also searching a white Chevy minivan. They took what appeared to be plastic bottles out of the vehicle. The apartment is on the first floor of a two-story building. The area around the building is sealed off but residents walked about and stood on their balconies watching.

A federal law enforcement official has identified one of the suspects in the shooting as Elton Simpson. The official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation by name and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said investigators were searching Simpson's property in connection with the case.

Court documents show a man by the name of Elton Simpson was convicted in 2011 in federal court in Phoenix of making a false statement by lying to an FBI agent in January 2010 about whether he had discussed traveling to Somalia. According to the documents, Simpson had discussed with an FBI informant a desire to travel to Somalia, but denied to an FBI agent that he'd had any such discussions.

According to trial testimony, Simpson is an American Muslim who became the subject of a criminal investigation in 2006 because of his association "with an individual whom the FBI believed was attempting to set up a terrorist cell in Arizona," U.S. District Judge Mary H. Murgia said in her order convicting Simpson.

Prosecutors alleged that the false statement involved terrorism, but Murgia's order said prosecutors hadn't proved that part of the allegation. Another federal judge later sentenced Simpson to three years of probation.

A resident of the Phoenix apartment complex, Douglas Hayes, said he saw police cars flood the complex Sunday night and saw SWAT team members walking throughout the complex. Hayes said early Monday morning he heard a loud noise that turned out to be law enforcement personnel breaking into a parked white minivan. Hayes says all the windows were broken, leaving glass scattered about the vehicle.

The bodies of the men could still be seen on the ground near the car Monday before they were later covered with a tarp. Investigators are still processing the crime scene, Harn said.

The contest Sunday, hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative, offered a $10,000 award for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous. Drawings similar to those featured at the Texas event have sparked violence around the world.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was informed about the shooting. He said the president believes there is no form of expression that would justify an act of violence.

Harn said the city had not received any credible threats before the shooting and a security plan for the event had been worked out over several months. He said additional security was hired for Sunday's event. The sponsoring group has said it paid $10,000 for off-duty police officers and other private security.

The wounded security officer was shot in the lower leg, Harn said. He was treated and released from a hospital.

Geller told the AP before Sunday's event that she planned the contest to make a stand for free speech in response to outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad. She said in a statement after the shooting that it showed how "needed our event really was."

In January, 12 people were killed by gunmen in an attack against the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam and other religions and used depictions of Muhammad. Another deadly shooting occurred the following month at a free speech event in Copenhagen featuring an artist who had caricatured the prophet.

Tens of thousands of people rallied around the world to honor the victims and defend the freedom of expression following those shootings.

Geller's group is known for mounting a campaign against the building of an Islamic center blocks from the World Trade Center site and for buying advertising space in cities across the U.S. criticizing Islam.

An armed police officer stands guard at a parking lot near the Curtis Culwell Center where a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad was held Sunday, May 3, 2015, in Garland, Texas. The contest was put on lockdown Sunday night and attendees were being evacuated after authorities reported a shooting outside the building.

An armed police officer stands guard at a parking lot near the Curtis Culwell Center where a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad was held Sunday, May 3, 2015, in Garland, Texas. The contest was put on lockdown Sunday night and attendees were being evacuated after authorities reported a shooting outside the building.
© AP Photo/LM Otero

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