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The keynote speaker at a controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, where two gunmen were killed Sunday night, was on an al-Qaida hit list that included Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier, who was gunned down with 11 others in an attack French satirical publication's Paris offices in January.
Geert Wilders, a right-wing Dutch politician who gave a 20-minute speech at the event in Garland, appeared alongside Charbonnier and Salman Rushdie on the 2013 list published by Inspire magazine under the headline: “Wanted: Dead or Alive for Crimes Against Islam.”
“I am shocked,”Wilders told Agence France-Presse. “I just spoke for half an hour about the cartoons, Islam and freedom of speech, and I had just left the premises.”
An unarmed security guard was also wounded in Sunday’s shooting, which occurred outside Curtis Culwell Center in North Garland around 7 p.m., when the two men got out of their car and opened fire. The guard was treated and released, Garland police said. None of the 200 attendees were hurt.
According to ABC News, FBI agents raided an apartment in Phoenix where one of the gunmen, identified as Elton Simpson, was believed to have lived.
Simpson, who had been the subject of a previous terrorist investigation, was a known sympathizer of the Islamic State terrorist group and is suspected of publishing a tweet with the hashtag #TexasAttack prior to the shooting.
“This is an attack on the liberties of all of us,” Wilders said.
In February, a gunman attacked a free speech forum in Copenhagen, Denmark, featuring Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist whose depictions of Muhammad landed him on the same list.
The Garland event, hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative, was offering $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was connected to the contest.
But the controversial organizer of the contest said she had no doubt it was.
“The Islamic jihadis are determined to suppress our freedom of speech violently,” Pam Geller, AFDI’s president, told CNN. “They struck in Paris and Copenhagen recently, and now in Texas.”
In 2012, Geller, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” fought for the right to run anti-Muslim ads in New York City’s subways. (“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man,” the ads read. “Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”)
Sunday’s incident, Geller said, “shows how much needed our event really was. The freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now before us: Will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery and savagery?”
The hashtag #JeSuisTexas, a nod to the “Je Suis Charlie” tribute that went viral after the shootings in Paris, was trending on Twitter late Sunday.
Wilders told AFP that he is traveling back to the Netherlands on Monday but plans to return to the United States next week for another speaking engagement.