After two attendees of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix (ICCPA) were killed in a gunfight Sunday night in Garland, Texas, outside a facility where a “Draw Muhammad” contest was being held, the leaders of the mosque have given conflicting stories about the relationship the two had with the place of worship.
Most of the conflicting accounts have come from mosque president Usama Shami, who has been regularly featured in multiple press reports following the events Sunday evening. Most of his statements have been attempts to distance the mosque from the two would-be terrorists.
For example, a Dallas Morning News article quotes him as saying the pair were not regular members:
Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said Simpson and Soofi attended prayers at the mosque but were not regular members. Simpson started attending Friday prayers at the mosque about 10 years ago, he said, but visited the mosque less frequently after he was arrested.
But in fact, a video posted on the ICCPA YouTube channel in 2012 features Elton (“Ibrahim”) Simpson and identifies him as a member:
The above quote by Shami asserts that Simpson stopped frequenting the mosque after his 2010 arrest. Another account by a local spokeswoman published in the Arizona Republic claimed that the mosque had shunned Simpson:
Deedra Abboud, a converted Muslim and a former community activist-turned-lawyer said Wednesday that members of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix were scared and that “everybody’s being pressured by the FBI.”
Abboud also said that while the FBI’s case bothered Simpson, so did a sense that the mosque turned its back on him.
“It was a combination of the two things: harassment by the FBI and the Muslim community avoiding him like the plague,” said Abboud, who helped raise money for Simpson’s bail and knows many of his closest acquaintances.
“It was the isolation,” she said. “My theory is that he was upset with the Muslim community and he became more susceptible to radical ideas.”
However, mosque president Shami stated several times that it was only within the past few months that the pair stopped attending:
Simpson had worshipped at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix for about a decade, but he quit showing up over the past two or three months, the president of the mosque told The Associated Press.
The center’s president, Usama Shami, said Simpson would play basketball with mosque members and was involved with the community. Soofi owned a nearby pizza business and would stop in to pray occasionally, he said.
That account was repeated by the L.A. Times:
Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, remembers Simpson as “a pleasant kid” who taught his jump shot to younger children at basketball courts near the mosque. Simpson attended the mosque beginning in his high school years, Shami said, and was active until just months ago.
“We didn’t see him too much lately,” said Shami, whose mosque is about two miles from the apartment shared by Simpson and Soofi.
So we see Shami giving two very different versions of Simpson’s attendance at the mosque.
Shami also tried to distance the mosque from Simpson’s 2010 arrest:
Shami disagreed that the mosque shunned Simpson. The mosque did decline to raise money for his legal defense, he said, concerned with not knowing where the FBI case would lead.
“Our first priority is to protect the mosque. It cannot be part of any federal case,” he explained, adding that Simpson was always welcome to attend even after his conviction.
And yet, multiple media reports quote Simpson’s attorney, Kristina Sitton, saying the mosque posted a $100,000 cash bond after his arrest:
The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix posted $100,000 cash bond to release him from custody, Sitton said.
Again, from the L.A. Times:
Simpson was placed on three years’ probation and fined $600. His mosque in Phoenix had posted his $100,000 bail.
That hardly seems to be a way to keep the mosque clear of Simpson’s charges.
Whether it is the membership status of the pair with the mosque, the repeated claims that they had cut ties with the mosque years ago, or that the mosque didn’t want to get involved in Simpson’s 2010 court case, the ICCPA leaders can’t seem to keep their story straight.