GARLAND– A provocative contest for cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad is on lockdown after authorities reported shootings outside the building.
An officer dressed in SWAT gear took the stage toward the end of the event at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland 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 whether the shooting was related to the event.
Garland Police Department spokesman Joe Harn declined to confirm the SWAT officer’s statements and said he had no details.
Those who were attending were taken to another room. Authorities said around 8 p.m. Sunday that the group would be moved to a nearby high school.
The New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative was hosting a contest at the venue 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.
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.
Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, said that she planned the Sunday event to make a stand for free speech in response to the outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad.
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.
The group did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late Sunday.