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Self-Declared Islamic State Claims Responsibility For Texas Shooting

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Who were the two men who opened fire on Sunday outside an exhibit of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, and what was their relationship to the Islamic State? Well, those are questions investigators continue to dig into two days after the attack in Garland, Texas just outside Dallas. In a moment, we'll hear how the event, called the "Muhammad Art Exhibit" ended up in Garland, but first to Adam Goldman of The Washington Post for more on the assailants. The two suspects, Adam Goldman - Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi - tell us about these two men.

ADAM GOLDMAN: Well, we know Elton Simpson was born in Illinois and converted to Islam at a young age and moved to the Phoenix area. I believe he came on the FBI's radar in 2006 when he associated with somebody who, in fact, I think was convicted of terrorism. They recorded him surreptitiously and they monitored him all the way till his arrest in 2010. He was on the no-fly list. So Elton Simpson was well-known to the FBI. Soofi - his history's a little more opaque. We know he was born in Dallas, and I think he spent the early years of his life, in fact, in Garland, Texas where the shooting took place. The family spent time in Pakistan and then Nadir Soofi returned to go to college at the University of Utah and he was pre-med there, and he left without graduating in 2003. He ran a pizza place in Phoenix, he did carpet cleaning, but that's about all we know. We think there might've been a third roommate living with Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson, but the real mystery is who radicalized whom. Did Elton Simpson radicalize Nadir Soofi, or was it the other way around? And I think the FBI is still trying to unravel this relationship.

SIEGEL: Now, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks in a radio broadcast, calling the gunmen soldiers of the caliphate. How credible is that - is that claim?

GOLDMAN: At the moment, not very credible and seems self-serving. Investigators suspect that it's more likely they were inspired by ISIS propaganda and were not directed by, say, an operative in the Islamic State in Syria. I think what these guys have in common with a lot of people we see who do this - aimless, rudderless, don't have a lot of future plans or aspirations and get sucked into this business.

SIEGEL: The prior offense that Elton Simpson was involved in actually involved lying about his plans to travel to Somalia. Is there any weapons charge against any of these men, or any violent offense that they were connected to in the past that we know about?

GOLDMAN: Not that we're aware of. In the case of Elton Simpson, he was charged with lying to FBI agents in connection with terrorism, which would've caused a three-year enhancement. If he had been convicted on that charge with the terrorism enhancement, he would've faced up to eight years in prison. But the judge said there was insufficient evidence to support the terror enhancement and she only sentenced him to three years' probation.

SIEGEL: To probation. He - we assume that he was under some degree of surveillance from the FBI?

GOLDMAN: Limited surveillance. They had - in the recent months, they had reopened an investigation into him and they were monitoring his Twitter feed, but apparently there was no indication, or they didn't have it, that he was plotting this attack. Obviously if they had known that, they would've stopped it.

SIEGEL: I wonder if you can answer this. You cover terrorism and national security. Do you have any sense of how many people across the United States are being watched to the degree that say, Elton Simpson was?

GOLDMAN: I can give you an exact number, in fact. So there are 7,000 international terrorism investigations and there are 4,500 domestic terrorism investigations. It's a fantasy to think that the FBI can deploy the kind of manpower to watch anybody 24-7 unless this individual is blinking red - unless they fear an attack is imminent. The FBI only has 13,000 agents. You simply can't do it.

SIEGEL: Adam Goldman, who covers terrorism and national security for The Washington Post - thanks for talking with us.

GOLDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.