Five years before he was shot to death in the failed terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, Nadir Soofi walked into a suburban Phoenix gun shop to buy a 9-millimeter pistol.
At the time, Lone Wolf Trading Co. was known among gun smugglers for selling illegal firearms. And with Soofi's history of misdemeanor drug and assault charges, there was a chance his purchase might raise red flags in the federal screening process.
Inside the store, he fudged some facts on the form required of would-be gun buyers.
What Soofi could not have known was that Lone Wolf was at the center of a federal sting operation known as Fast and Furious, targeting Mexican drug lords and traffickers. The idea of the secret program was to allow Lone Wolf to sell illegal weapons to criminals and straw purchasers, and track the guns back to large smuggling networks and drug cartels.
Instead, federal agents lost track of the weapons and the operation became a fiasco, particularly after several of the missing guns were linked to shootings in Mexico and the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in Arizona.
Soofi's attempt to buy a gun caught the attention of authorities, who slapped a seven-day hold on the transaction, according to his Feb. 24, 2010, firearms transaction record, which was reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Then, for reasons that remain unclear, the hold was lifted after 24 hours, and Soofi got the 9-millimeter.
As the owner of a small pizzeria, the Dallas-born Soofi, son of a Pakistani American engineer and American nurse, would not have been the primary focus of federal authorities, who back then were looking for smugglers and drug lords.
He is now.
In May, Soofi and his roommate, Elton Simpson, burst upon the site of a Garland cartoon convention that was offering a prize for the best depiction of the prophet Muhammad, something offensive to many Muslims. Dressed in body armor and armed with three pistols, three rifles and 1,500 rounds of ammunition, the pair wounded a security officer before they were killed by local police.
A day after the attack, the Department of Justice sent an "urgent firearms disposition request" to Lone Wolf, seeking more information about Soofi and the pistol he bought in 2010, according to a June 1 letter from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, to U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch.
Though the request did not specify whether the gun was used in the Garland attack, Justice Department officials said the information was needed "to assist in a criminal investigation," according to Johnson's letter, also reviewed by The Times.
Comey suggested that the attack fits the pattern of foreign terrorist groups indoctrinating American citizens through the Internet. He referred to it as the "crowdsourcing of terrorism."
In a handwritten letter apparently mailed hours before the attack, Soofi said he was inspired by the writings of Islamic cleric Anwar Awlaki, an American citizen killed in a 2011 U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
"I love you," Soofi wrote to his mother, Sharon Soofi, "and hope to see you in eternity." In a telephone interview, Sharon Soofi described the letter and said her son had been shot twice in the head and once in the chest, according to autopsy findings she received.
At the time of the 2010 gun purchase, Soofi ran a Phoenix pizza parlor. His mother said that was about the same time he met Simpson, who worked for Soofi at the restaurant. They later shared an apartment, a short drive from the Lone Wolf store.
Reached by telephone, Andre Howard, owner of Lone Wolf, denied that his store sold the gun to Soofi. "Not here," Howard said before hanging up.
Sharon Soofi said her son had told her he wanted the pistol for protection because his restaurant was in a "rough area." She said he also acquired an AK-47 assault rifle at the end of last year or early this year, when authorities believe he and Simpson were plotting an attack on the Super Bowl in Arizona.
"I tried to convince him that, what in the world do you need an AK-47 for?" she said in a telephone interview. Soofi told her they practiced target shooting in the desert. Her younger son, Ali Soofi, was living with his brother and Simpson at the time, she said, but left after becoming frightened by the weapons, ammunition and militant Islamist literature.
She blamed Simpson for radicalizing her son, who she said had no history of religious extremism. A month before Soofi bought the pistol, Simpson was indicted on charges of lying to the FBI about his plans to travel to Somalia and engage in "violent jihad," according to federal court documents.
Simpson was jailed until March 2011 and convicted of making false statements. But the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove the false statements were connected to international terrorism. Simpson was released and placed on probation.
After the Garland attack, the FBI arrested a third man, Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, and charged him with planning the Garland attack. At a detention hearing on June 16, prosecutors and an FBI agent provided details about the plot, but avoided discussing the history of the firearms.
He referred to "those Muslims who are being killed, slandered, imprisoned, etc. for their religion," and concluded, "I truly love you, Mom, but this life is nothing but shade under the tree and a journey. The reality is the eternal existence in the hereafter."