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Chattanooga shooting: Islamist who shot dead four Marines in Texas had no known links to terrorism

US authorities checking whether Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez had contact with militants during lengthy Middle East visit

Tim Walker
Friday 17 July 2015 18:44 BST
Students and others join in prayer across the highway from where a gunman attacked the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga
Students and others join in prayer across the highway from where a gunman attacked the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga (Getty)

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.

Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born man suspected of gunning down four Marines in a deadly rampage in Tennessee (AFP)

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.”

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.

Members of a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Evidence Response Team work outside a US Military Recruiting after the shooting (EPA)

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.”

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