Chattanooga gunman ‘spent time in Jordan and Yemen’
Authorities search computer of Mohammad Abdulazeez, who killed 4 Marines Thursday; yet to find evidence of direct jihadist influence
The young American Muslim man who shot dead four US Marines in Chattanooga on Thursday visited Jordan and Yemen last year, Army Radio reported Friday.
According to the report, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez spent a month in Jordan in 2014, during which time he also visited Yemen. Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait, but was a naturalized American citizen who left for the United States with his parents in 1996.
The SITE Intelligence Group, an organization based in Maryland that monitors online activity by jihadi groups, said that Abdulazeez’s mother is Kuwaiti and his father Palestinian.
The 24-year-old opened fire at two US military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday, killing the four soldiers and wounding three other people in a rampage that officials said was being investigated as an act of “domestic terrorism.”
Two of the dead have been identified as Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40, and Skip Wells, who was in his early 20s. The other victims’ names were not immediately released.
Hours after the killing spree on Thursday, authorities were still piecing together a portrait of the former high school wrestler with a degree in engineering to explain why he may have turned into a cold-blooded killer.
The FBI raided Abdulazeez’s home in a leafy Chattanooga suburb and vowed to use every means possible to “determine the cause or the reason why he carried out this attack.”
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke told CNN early Friday that the gunman “was not, as far as we know,” known to local authorities.
Berke added: “We certainly didn’t have any indication that he was a threat or that yesterday something was going to happen.”
Federal authorities were looking into the possibility it was an act of terrorism, but say there is no evidence yet that anyone else was involved.
For months, US counterterrorism authorities have been warning of the danger of attacks by individuals inspired but not necessarily directed by the Islamic State group. Officials have said they have disrupted several such lone-wolf plots.
A federal law enforcement official said authorities were continuing a search of his computer but had not found an extensive online presence and had not uncovered any evidence he was directly influenced by the Islamic State. The official was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Residents in the quiet neighborhood where Abdulazeez was believed to have lived in a two-story home said they would see him walking along the wide streets or doing yard work. One neighbor recalled Abdulazeez giving him a ride home when he became stranded in a snowstorm.
“It’s kind of a general consensus from people that interacted with him that he was just your average citizen there in the neighborhood. There was no reason to suspect anything otherwise,” said Ken Smith, a city councilman who met with neighbors Thursday night.
Abdulazeez got an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012 and worked as an intern a few years ago at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned utility that operates power plants and dams across the South. For the last three months, he had been working at Superior Essex Inc., which designs and makes wire and cable products.
In April, he was arrested on a drunken driving charge, and a mugshot showed him with a bushy beard. In earlier photos, he was clean-shaven.
Hussnain Javid, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said Abdulazeez studied electrical engineering at the same college and they both graduated the same high school several years apart. Javid said Abdulazeez was on the high school’s wrestling team and was a popular student.
Javid said he occasionally saw Abdulazeez at the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, but the last time was roughly a year ago.
Authorities would not say publicly how the gunman died, but the US official said investigators believe Chattanooga police fired the shot that killed him. At least one military commander at the scene also fired at the gunman with his personal weapon, but forensic investigators determined that police killed him, the official said.
FBI agent Ed Reinhold said Abdulazeez had “numerous weapons” but would not give details. He said investigators have “no idea” what motivated the shooter, but “we are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism, whether it’s domestic, international, or whether it was a simple criminal act.”
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s top officer, said that security at military recruiting and reserve centers will be reviewed, but that it’s too early to say whether they should have security guards or other increased protection.
Odierno said there are legal issues involved in allowing recruiters to carry guns. And he said the centers need to be open and accessible to the public.
Brandon Elder, who works at the strip mall where the recruiting office is situated, said he heard what he thought was a jackhammer, and then someone shouted, “He’s shooting!”
Elder said he looked out his window onto the parking lot and saw a man in a silver convertible Mustang, a gun propped out the window, spraying bullets into the storefronts.
“He was in front of the recruiting office, just riding up, reversing and driving back,” he said. The barrage lasted maybe three or four minutes, and then the driver took off, he said: “It was crazy, surreal, like a movie. Is this really happening?”