Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, the 43-year-old suspect accused of helping carry out last month's terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, worked several months ago at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix cleaning carpets, New Times has learned.
Kareem was indicted by a federal grand jury last week on charges that he provided the firearms for the May 3rd attack and helped plan it. He's being held in federal detention following a court hearing on Tuesday in which a prosecutor labeled him "dangerous" and a potential flight risk.
The Islamic Community Center (ICCP) at 7516 North Black Canyon Highway was the site of a large protest and counter-protest on May 29 that drew worldwide media attention. Suspects Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson, who were the only two people killed in their attack, were from Phoenix and had spent time at the mosque. Elton Simpson reportedly had worshiped there in the last few months.
Usama Shami, president of the ICCP, tells New Times today that Kareem — known previously as Decarus Thomas before a legal name change in 2013 — worked as a carpet cleaner for the mosque as recently as six-to-eight months ago.
"He did it on a volunteer basis sometimes — a few times he was paid for the service," Shami says, adding that he recalls talking about things like how long it took a carpet to dry, and not anything related to Islam, worship or politics. "I talked to him a few times when he was cleaning. I didn't have lengthy conversations with him."
Shami says Kareem "didn't worship at the center" but knew people who attended there. He didn't hire Kareem, he says — a fellow worshiper had Kareem's number and would call him.
Kareem would come out in his unmarked van. It was strictly a business relationship; people at the mosque believed he'd been a convert for several years — which he may have been, Shami says. Kareem had been going by the name of Kareem for three or four years, according to others at the Phoenix mosque, Shami says.
Like many other houses of worship, the mosque utilizes people with certain skills who can provide work, or volunteer work, for the organization, he says. He adds that he's not sure if Kareem worked for any other Valley mosques.
Shami agrees the connection to the mosque may be seen as suspicious to some people.
"No one likes negative media attention," he says. "This is just a coincidence. No more, no less."
The June 10 indictment states that Kareem, Simpon, Soofi "and others known and unknown to the grand jury" began their plans on or about February 11, when the organizers of the "Muhammed Art Exhibit and Contest announced that the contest would be held at the Curtis Culwell Center" in Garland on May 3.
On that day, Simpson and Soofi drove toward the Culwell Center and began shooting "with assault rifles at security personnel and law enforcement," the indictment states. One security officer was hit and injured; both suspects were shot and killed by police officers.
For Kareem, the conspiracy to commit an attack began before the Garland Muhammed-drawing contest was announced, the feds allege.
Kareem, Simpson, Soofi, and others held shooting-practice sessions in the desert between January 7 and May 3.
"Kareem provided firearms to Simpson and Soofi," records state. Kareem is also accused of holding what might be termed mission briefings with Simpson, Soofi and unnamed others in his Phoenix home.
The indictment accuses Kareem of three felony counts: conspiracy, interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit a felony, and making false statements.
Local attorney Daniel Maynard is representing Kareem at government expense under the Criminal Justice Act. He didn't respond to a request for comment this morning.
Court records show that Kareem — as Decarus Thomas — is a scofflaw of the roads, with numerous convictions for not having a valid license and other traffic offenses. In 2004, he was sent to prison for four months for his second aggravated-DUI conviction.
Media coverage of Tuesday's court hearing reported that prosecutor Kristen Brook told U.S. District Judge Bridget Bade that Kareem was "off-the-charts dangerous."
According to 12 News (KPNX-TV) reporter Brahm Resnik, Brooke said Kareem "got interested in launching an attack on American soil" following the January 7 attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris, and that "a confidential informant said he had discussed attacking the Super Bowl in Glendale last February." An FBI agent testified that Kareem kept weapons and body armor in a safe, Resnik reported.
The scope of the conspiracy is still unclear to authorities. The attack has been loosely connected to ISIS and the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. A May 5 CNN story states that Simpson tweeted to an Al-Shabaab affiliate on April 23rd. The Kareem indictment lists the April 23 date as the last possible date the Garland attack could have been planned.
Shami tells New Times that the FBI showed him and others at the mosque several pictures of men. Shami's not sure whether the men are suspected of anything, but says some of the men pictured were "friends of Elton (Simpson.)"
"I recognized a lot of people who attended the mosque and moved," Shami says. Many of the others in the FBI pictures, though, he didn't know.
New Times asked Shami if he was now suspicious of the men he recognized from those pictures. Shami says he doubts they are involved and that several were "students."
Shami emphasizes that no evidence points to any conspiracy within the Islamic Cultural Center. The "radicalization" of the Garland suspects "did not happen inside the mosque," he says. "All the teachings of Islam go against that."
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