Two armed men who opened fire on a security officer outside of a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad have been killed, authorities in the Dallas suburb of Garland said Sunday night.
The City of Garland said in a statement posted on its Facebook page Sunday night that two men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center and began shooting at a security officer.
Police officers engaged the gunmen, who were both shot and killed, the statement said.
The statement did not say whether the shooting was related to the event. The security officer’s injuries were not life-threatening, the city said.
The gunmen’s vehicle may contain an ”incendiary device,” according to the statement. A bomb squad was on the scene, and nearby businesses were evacuated.
Police blocked off a large area around the center Sunday night. There was a heavy police presence, and at least three helicopters circled overhead.
The New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative had been hosting a contest at the center that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Such drawings are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad – even a respectful one – is considered blasphemous.
Earlier Sunday, about 75 attendees at the contest were escorted by authorities to another room in the conference center. They were then taken to a separate location, where an Associated Press reporter was told they could not leave until FBI agents arrived to question them.
Neither the FBI office in Washington, D.C., nor the Dallas office had any immediate comment.
Johnny Roby of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was attending the conference. He told the AP he was outside the building when he heard around about 20 shots that appeared to be coming from the direction of a passing car.
Roby said he then heard two single shots. He said he heard officers yell that they had the car before he was sent inside the building.
Pamela Geller, president of the AFDI, told the AP before Sunday’s event that she planned the contest to make a stand for free speech in response to outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad. Though it remained unclear several hours after the shooting whether it was related to event, she said Sunday night that the shooting showed how ”needed our event really was.”
In January, 12 people were killed by gunmen in an attack against the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam and other religions and used depictions of Muhammad. Another deadly shooting occurred the following month at a free speech event in Copenhagen featuring an artist who had caricatured the prophet.
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.
When a Chicago-based nonprofit held a January fundraiser in Garland designed to help Muslims combat negative depictions of their faith, Geller spearheaded about 1,000 picketers at the event. One chanted: ”Go back to your own countries! We don’t want you here!” Others held signs with messages such as, ”Insult those who behead others,” an apparent reference to recent beheadings by the militant group Islamic State.