Two men were killed Sunday after they opened fire in a parking lot outside a contest for cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad, authorities reported. The contest took place in Garland, Texas.
Garland's government issued a statement saying that as a Muhammad Art Exhibit event was coming to a close, "two males drove up to the front of the building in a car'' and started shooting at a security officer.
"Garland police officers engaged the gunmen, who were both shot and killed,'' the city said in a statement released online.
The security officer, who is also a Garland Independent School District employee, was identified as Bruce Joiner. He was shot in the leg and suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was reported to be in stable condition at a local hospital.
The exhibit was placed on lockdown and attendees were later moved to a nearby high school.
Police suspected the attackers' vehicle contained a bomb and called in bomb squad experts.
An officer dressed in military fatigues took the stage toward the end of the event at the Curtis Culwell Center, near Dallas, and told attendees that a shooting had occurred. .
The American Freedom Defense Initiative hosted the Muhammad Cartoon Exhibit and $10,000 cartoon contest.
The arena which hosted the event, owned by the Garland school district, hosted a "Stand With the Prophet" event in January.
The exhibit featured "images of Islam's prophet, both historic and contemporary, and speeches by leading voices of freedom and internationally renowned free speech advocates," according to a press release by the group.
Such drawings have sparked violence around the world. Islamic tradition stipulates that any physical depiction of the prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.
Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, planned the Sunday event to make a stand for free speech in response to the outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad, NBC News reported. 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.
"This is a war,'' she posted on her website PamellaGeller.com. "This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?''
Dutch politician Geert Wilders, known for advocating a ban on the Kuran, was a keynote speaker at the gathering.
The event raises fundamental questions about whether Islam is compatible with American values and law, namely freedom of speech. Our country was founded upon such freedoms and it does appear that Islam, be it in radical or mainstream form, is highly incompatible with these hard won rights.
While groups such as the AFDI may appear antagonistic it is important for our country to take a stand against foreign influences that attempt to stifle our hard-won rights.
Becoming violent over a drawing is not the American way. Banning a drawing is also not the American way.
In our rush to judge this tragic event we must consider this fully as we determine what role, if any, Islam should have on shaping our values. It appears that whatever influence that may be is a step backward and not forward for our country.