Two gunmen have been shot dead and a security guard injured at a contest for cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad in a Dallas suburb.
The gunmen were said to have driven up to the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland on Sunday afternoon where the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) had been hosting the exhibition and contest.
According to city authorities a guard at the event was shot at before the men who appeared to be driving a red truck were engaged by police.
Authorities immediately locked down the center, evacuating participants in the event and sealing off large areas.
The bomb squad was called in after reports of a possible incendiary device at the scene of the incident.
An officer dressed in Swat gear took to the stage at the Curtis Culwell Center and told attendees, including an Associated Press reporter, that a shooting had occurred. He said one officer and two suspects were shot.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the shooting was related to the event.
However a statement from the City of Garland read:
As today’s Muhammad art exhibit event at the Curtis Culwell Center was coming to an end, two males drove up to the front of the building in a car. Both males were armed and began shooting at a Garland ISD security officer. Garland police officers engaged the gunmen, who were both shot and killed.
Police suspect the vehicle may contain an incendiary device and the bomb squad is on the scene. The surrounding businesses including Academy Sports, Walmart and Sam’s are being evacuated. Event participants are also being evacuated from the Curtis Culwell Center for their safety.
The Dallas Morning News also reported that two men pulled up in a car near the event and shot at a security officer. The men were killed and their bodies were reported to be on the street near to the center.
The security officer involved who had been shot at received injuries that were not life-threatening.
The shootings were also reported by a local NBC reporter near the event.
Large areas around the centre were sealed off and shops including Wal Mart were evacuated.
The AFDI’s contest was attended by Geert Wilders, the Dutch far-right populist politician who gave a speech to the audience.
Wilders, 51, heads the Party for Freedom, and has been accused of inciting racial hatred after pledging in 2014 to ensure there would be “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands.
He later tweeted his praise for the efforts of police during the incident.
After an alert was raised at the event in Garland, about 75 attendees at the controversial event were taken to another room.
Later, a group of 48 people were escorted to a school bus. Authorities told attendees they would be taken to a nearby high school. A second group was set to be moved shortly after.
Johnny Roby of Oklahoma City, was attending the conference.
He told Associated Press he was outside the building when he heard about 20 shots that appeared to be coming from the direction of a car passing by. 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.
The New York-based AFDI was hosting a contest that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad at the venue.
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.
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 the prophet.
Pamela Geller, the president of the AFDI, said she planned the Sunday event to make a stand for free speech in response to the outcries and violence over drawings of the prophet.
After the incident, Geller posted an angry statement on her website: “This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?
“Two men with rifles and backpacks attacked police outside our event. A cop was shot; his injuries are not life-threatening, thank Gd. Please keep him in your prayers.
“The bomb squad has been called to the event site to investigate a backpack left at the event site.
“The war is here.”
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 US criticizing Islam.