US authorities are investigating whether the man who shot dead four US Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee had contact with militant groups or other extremists during a lengthy visit to the Middle East last year.
Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, who held both US and Jordanian citizenship, spent around seven months in Jordan in 2014, a source close to the probe told Reuters. Investigators are also looking into whether he travelled to other countries such as Yemen during the trip.
Abdulazeez allegedly began his shooting spree at around 10.45am on Thursday, firing at least two dozen rounds from his car at a Chattanooga strip mall containing a row of military recruiting centres. Officials said no one was injured in that attack, but the gunman then drove several miles to a nearby Marine training centre, where he exited the vehicle and opened fire again, killing four marines and wounding three other people, including a police officer. Abdulazeez was finally shot dead by police.
The victims were identified yesterday as David Wyatt, Carson Holmquist, Skip Wells and 40-year-old Thomas Sullivan, who had been awarded the Purple Heart during his service in Iraq. In a statement, President Barack Obama said, “It is a heart-breaking circumstance for these individuals who have served our country with great valour to be killed in this fashion.”
The attacks come amid growing concern about the domestic threat posed by so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, radicalised from afar. Before the shootings, Abdulazeez is believed to have begun writing an Islamic-themed blog hinting at his intentions. There were only two posts on the blog, both published on Monday, 13 July. In the first, Abdulazeez wrote that life is simply a test, “designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire.”
In the second post, entitled “Understanding Islam,” Abdulazeez suggested that his fellow Muslims suffered from “tunnel vision” in their views of the religion as purely spiritual. Their conception of the Prophet Muhammad and the early founders of Islam as “like priests living in monasteries” was wrong, he wrote. Rather, he said, “Every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah.”
In pictures: Chattanooga shooting
In pictures: Chattanooga shooting
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Military veteran David Croft brings flowers to a makeshift memorial near a US Military Recruiting storefront after a shooting in Chattanooga
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A memorial left near the scene of the first shooting at the Armed Forces Career Center
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Melody Kelley, front right, hugs Logan Wallace during a prayer vigil at Redemption Point Church for the victims of shootings at a recruiting center and another U.S. military site a few miles apart in Chattanooga
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The Rev. Drew McCallie prays during a prayer service at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church for the victims of shootings at a recruiting center and another U.S. military site a few miles apart in Chattanooga
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A Chattanooga Police officer walks past the bullet-riddled front door of a US Military Recruiting storefront after a shooting in Chattanooga
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Members of a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Evidence Response Team work outside a US Military Recruiting storefront after a shooting in Chattanooga
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An investigator searches under a vehicle parked outside an Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga
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Law enforcement personnel gather outside the home of gunman Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez after a shooting in Chattanooga
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Members of a SWAT team sit on the back of a vehicle in Hixson
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Law enforcement officers detain a woman as they surround a house in Hixson after a gunman unleashed a barrage of fire at two sites a few miles apart in Chattanooga, killing several people
A Kuwait-born Jordanian and naturalised US citizen, Abdulazeez did not appear in any federal terrorism database, had no apparent ties to Isis or other radical organisations and was not under investigation by the FBI prior to the attack. He lived with his parents in Hixson, a leafy Chattanooga suburb, and had graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2012 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Friends said he was a popular student during his time at Red Bank High School. Ryan Smith, who wrestled with Abdulazeez on the school team, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he was “unbelievably nice”. The Abdulazeez family, Mr Smith added, were “really religious... all the women in his family wore the little hoods.” In the school’s yearbook, Abdulazeez left the comment: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?” Yet his only run-in with the authorities before the shootings was an arrest for driving under the influence in April, when arresting officers reported that he smelled of marijuana.
The Islamic Centre of Greater Chattanooga cancelled a planned Eid celebration to mark the end of Ramadan on Friday. Instead, the centre’s president, Bassam Issa, told The Independent people would be mourning the four killed Marines. “We don’t feel like Eid. This event has taken everything. It is not in our hearts,” Mr Issa said. “The whole community in Chattanooga has come together as one. The smaller Muslim community is no different from the rest.”
Mr Issa had been quick to issue a statement shortly after the shootings on Thursday, denouncing the violence. “Our hearts are with the families of the brave Marines who died today,” he said. “We condemn this act in the strongest possible terms as one of cowardice and hate.”Reuse content