An FBI agent testified Friday about his two interrogations of an Arizona man accused of planning a shooting at a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, saying the defendant denied knowing beforehand about the attack that was carried out by two of his friends.
Agent Stewart Whitson, lead investigator in the case of Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, said Kareem gave conflicting answers when asked whether he ever went to the desert to shoot guns with Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, who were killed in a shootout with police during the May 3 attack in Garland, Texas.
Whitson said Kareem denied taking such trips to the desert during his interviews in the days after the attack. But a month later, when Kareem was arrested, he told investigators that he went shooting with Simpson and Soofi once.
"He said they had asked him to go shooting and had specified they didn't want to do it at a range," Whitson said of the first interview. "They wanted to do it out in the desert to avoid law enforcement detection."
Kareem, a 44-year-old moving company owner, is accused of hosting Simpson and another man at his home to discuss plans for the attack and providing the guns that were used.
Prosecutors say Kareem also encouraged Simpson and Soofi to carry out violence in the United States in support of the Islamic State group and inquired about explosives to blow up a stadium in metro Phoenix during the 2015 Super Bowl.
Kareem has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and other charges.
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It's unknown whether the attack was inspired by the Islamic State or carried out in response to an order from the group.
Defense lawyers claim the government is using guilt through associations to target Kareem. They haven't yet had a chance to question Whitson on the witness stand. They say the case against Kareem is trumped-up.
Whitson said Kareem denied during both interviews having knowledge beforehand of the attack.
The agent said Kareem's eyes welled up with tears as he talked about Simpson during the first interview.
The agent also said a still photo from an Islamic State promotional video was found on a tablet device in Kareem's truck after his June 2015 arrest. The background of the image is a mosque in Mosul, Iraq, and it contains fighters holding an Islamic State flag.
On Friday, jurors viewed the social media postings of Simpson, who made a post 16 minutes before the start of the attack.
Simpson wrote, "May Allah accept us as mujahideen," a reference to holy warriors. In a posting a week before, he bemoaned the upcoming cartoon contest by saying, "When will they ever learn."
The postings provide insight into the attack, but it's unclear whether there is a connection to Kareem, who didn't have a Twitter account and wasn't mentioned by name in the comments.
Greg Neville, an FBI intelligence analyst who reviewed Simpson's postings, testified that the people with whom Simpson communicated in private Twitter messages were believed to live overseas.
In one exchange, someone pointed out to Simpson that guns are cheaper in the United States than Syria. In another posting, Simpson chastises a man for not using adequate encrypted technology to communicate without others listening in.