CAIR condemns Texas attack, but says group behind Mohammad cartoon contest aims for “cheap publicity”

Spokesman for Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says group that exhibited caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad have “made a career of promoting inflammatory hate rhetoric and hoping to provoke some response from Muslims.”

GARLAND, TEXAS, UNITED STATES (MAY 4, 2015) (NBC) – A day after Texas police shot dead two gunmen who opened fire outside an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said on Monday (May 4) that “there’s no excuse for an attack of this type, even on an anti-Islam event.”

The shooting in a Dallas suburb was an echo of past attacks or threats in other Western countries against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad. In January, gunmen killed 12 people in the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in revenge for its cartoons.

The exhibit was organized by Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). Her organization, which is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, has sponsored anti-Islamic advertising campaigns in transit systems across the country.

Geert Wilders, a polarizing Dutch politician and anti-Islamic campaigner who is on an al Qaeda hit list, was among the speakers at the event.

“We believe even anti-Muslim bigots like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer and Geert Vielders have the right to air their hatred and bigotry and we have the right to peacefully challenge that bigotry but there is no excuse for any violence,” CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said.

Sunday’s attack took place at about 7 p.m. (0000 GMT Monday) in a parking lot of the Curtis Culwell Center, an indoor arena in Garland, northeast of Dallas.

Organizers of the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” said the event was to promote freedom of expression. They offered a $10,000 prize for the best artwork or cartoon depicting the Prophet, as well as a $2,500 “People’s Choice Award.”

Depictions of the Prophet Mohammad are viewed as offensive in Islam, and Western art that portrays the Prophet has sometimes angered Muslims and provoked threats and attacks from radicals.

Hooper said that CAIR had asked people to ignore the event because he believed Geller and her group hoped to get “cheap publicity based on her inflammatory rhetoric.”

“She’s made a career of promoting inflammatory hate rhetoric and hoping to provoke some response from Muslims,” Hooper said.

“Her ilk thrive on that tiny minority of individuals who react how they hope they will react to extremist rhetoric and she makes money based on that inappropriate reaction.”

In Sunday’s incident, the two suspects drove up to the building as the event was ending, and opened fire with automatic rifles at an unarmed security officer, striking him in the leg, police and city officials said.

Garland police officers who were assisting with security returned fire, killing both suspects, officials said.

The security officer was treated at a local hospital and later released. No one else was injured.

Most of the 200 people attending the event were still inside the arena when the violence unfolded and were unaware of what had happened until police came into the building and told everyone to stay inside because of a shooting.

The mayor said the city had permitted the event even though officials knew its inflammatory theme could provoke an attack.

He said the school district that owns the building had posted extra security officers at the venue, and the city of Garland also had a number of security and SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams in the area.

Geller, who is known for her stance on Islam, said on Fox News she chose the Garland venue for the art exhibit because it was where American Muslim leaders held a conference on combating Islamophobia a week after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

In 2010, she led a march to the site of a proposed Islamic center near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.

In his speech at the event, shown in a video clip posted on the AFDI’s website, Dutch politician Wilders offered his rationale for supporting the cartoon contest, saying depicting the Prophet and violating one of Islam’s greatest taboos was a liberating act.