Elton Simpson appears to have had online ties to a British ISIS recruit — Junaid Hussain — thought to be in Syria and an American jihadi operating in Somalia, according to a CNN analysis of tweets exchanged ahead of Sunday’s attack.
CNN Still, it’s not certain if either inspired or had a hand in the attack, a U.S. official told CNN. One of the theories investigators are exploring is whether Simpson was just trying to gain Hussain’s approval and get on his radar or whether there was actually back and forth communication between the two men.”
Former FBI agent Tim Clemente concludes that the gunmen may have plotted the attack without direction from ISIS at all. “They may not have had formal contact,” Clemente said. “They may have had email communication or read communications from ISIS, but I don’t think they were directed by ISIS.”
“I think it’s the other way around — they were kind of applying for membership into ISIS. And so they were doing this act, sent out the tweet in advance because if they know there’s a possibility they’re not going to make it out of this, then they can’t give recognition to what they were trying to do after the fact.”
Moments before the attack, Simpson posted a tweet with the hashtag #texasattack: “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.”
The tweet also said he and his fellow attacker had pledged allegiance to “Amirul Mu’mineen,” which means “the leader of the faithful.” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said that likely refers to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Earlier, Simpson had asked his followers on Twitter to follow an ISIS propagandist, believed to be Hussain.
The attack fits a well-known pattern of ISIS recruitment and incitement: encouraging sympathizers via a sophisticated social media campaign to join the fight in Syria, or, if they cannot, to carry out terror attacks on their own at home, U.S. officials said After the shooting, the propagandist tweeted: “Allahu Akbar!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire.”
Two law enforcement officials say it’s believed they drove from Phoenix to Garland, but specific details about the time line of the trip or when it was made haven’t been released.
The officials say investigators are trying to determine whether the gunmen had any associates in Phoenix, or elsewhere in the United States, who share the same ideology. The FBI is scrubbing their hard drives and other electronics devices, plus interviewing friends to draw any connections.
A particular concern among law enforcement and intelligence officials is keeping track of other Americans, similar to Simpson, who are following and in touch with Hussain. One official said he’s “a real problem” due to his ability to recruit online and inspire others to launch attacks in the West.
In 2011, Simpson was convicted of making a false statement involving international and domestic terrorism. Prosecutors said he told FBI agents he had not discussed traveling to Somalia to engage in “violent jihad” — when, in fact, he had, according to an indictment. Simpson was sentenced to three years of probation, court records show.