PHOENIX – An Arizona man charged with planning an attack on a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas took the witness stand Tuesday in his own defense, describing how he met the two men who carried out the thwarted shooting.
Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem told jurors that he met Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi at Soofi's pizza restaurant in northwest Phoenix in 2011. Simpson and Soofi were killed in a police shootout outside the May 3 contest in suburban Dallas.
Kareem said the encounter at the restaurant led to his friendship with Simpson.
"We talked ever since," Kareem said, adding that they exchanged phone numbers after they were introduced. The three men attended the same mosque.
Kareem is accused of hosting Simpson and Soofi at his home to discuss plans to attack the event featuring cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims and providing the guns that were used. A security guard was injured when the two opened fire outside the event but no one attending the contest in Garland, Texas, was hurt.
Kareem is charged with providing support to the Islamic State terrorist group, though it's unknown whether the attack was inspired by the group or carried out in response to an order from it. He has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have not yet gotten a chance to question Kareem, and he has not yet been asked to respond to the allegations against him. Defense lawyers claim the government is using guilt through associations to target Kareem.
The 44-year-old moving company owner provided jurors with his biographical information, such as having a father who was a police officer in Philadelphia, his upbringing in a Baptist household and his conversion to Islam as an adult.
He also said he was a bystander when he was shot in the back during a robbery 15 years ago in Detroit at a barber shop operated by a friend.
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.