Mosque raised concerns about suspect in Denver transit death

AP News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2017 8:19 PM
Mosque raised concerns about suspect in Denver transit death

DENVER (AP) — Members of mosques in Texas and Colorado grew so alarmed by a newcomer's hard-line comments that they told authorities about the man, who now stands accused of killing a transit officer in downtown Denver.

Investigators interviewed Joshua Cummings, 37, in December after members of a Denver-area mosque reported concerns about him to federal authorities, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.

A leader at the mosque emailed the Department of Homeland Security to say a man identifying himself only as a Muslim convert named Joshua, from Pampa, Texas, made worrisome statements during a Dec. 24 lunch and at an earlier event, according to a redacted copy of the email released Thursday by Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney for the mosque.

"He seems pretty advanced in his path of radicalization," the mosque leader wrote.

At an open house earlier in December, Joshua publicly rebuked a speaker "as being soft" on Shariah law, the letter said.

"After talking to him for some time, he agreed to meet with some Imams to clarify his thoughts," the person wrote. "I am hoping to arrange a meeting of one of the stronger/more knowledgeable Imams with him to see if he can be mellowed a bit. But I doubt it would help. He is not listening to reason."

The writer attached photos and a video of the man.

Before the Denver report, members of a Texas mosque reported concerning behavior by Cummings to the FBI, the law enforcement official said.

Cummings — who served in the Army more than a decade ago but never saw combat — is suspected of walking up behind guard Scott Von Lanken on a downtown corner Tuesday night as he spoke to two women, putting a gun to his neck and shooting him.

Cummings is being held without bond on suspicion of murder and hasn't been charged yet. He is expected to make his first court appearance Friday morning. It's not clear if he has a lawyer yet.

Mohamedbhai said the Denver-area mosque's report to the Department of Homeland Security highlighted an ongoing working relationship between law enforcement and the region's Muslim community. Federal law enforcement "took this alert very seriously," he said, but did not know what actions were taken after the report.

The FBI declined to comment and the Department of Homeland Security didn't respond to a request for comment.

Denver police have not revealed a possible motive for the shooting or commented on how his alleged radicalization may have played a role in the shooting. Officials have said they were looking into whether Von Lanken, who was armed and wearing a dark blue uniform similar to those worn by police, could have been targeted because he was a member of law enforcement.

Cummings had social media posts that included both messages hostile to and supportive of law enforcement. Last July, he tweeted that an Arizona police officer accused of brutality should be put to death for treason, but he published a post in September 2015 in support of police and the military in response to the murder of a police officer in his home.

The manager of a motel in the Denver suburb of Englewood where Cummings had stayed recently and also part of last year said Cummings was "always a positive guy" who volunteered to pay the rent for any tenants strapped for cash. Gary Kim said Cummings told him he was Muslim during long talks at the front desk or the small lobby at the Holiday Motel, recalling that Cummings did not want to give any negative connotations to the faith.

"He would say everyone should have a right to practice their religion as long as that religion isn't imputing on someone else's life," Kim said.

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Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report. Associated Press writer Gurman reported from Washington, D.C.