A day after 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four U.S. Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, head of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he believes it was an “ISIS-inspired attack,” although the FBI earlier had said investigators have “no idea” what motivated the shooter.
The shooting started just before 11am on Thursday, when witnesses saw Abdulazeez drive into a strip mall and use a high-powered shotgun to fire more than a dozen rounds, injuring one person, at a military recruitment office from his rented silver convertible Mustang.
Abdulazeez then drove six miles to a U.S. Naval Reserve center and opened fire again. He killed four Marines and wounded three (a police officer, a Marine recruiter, and a Navy sailor) before he was gunned down by police in a hail of bullets after a short chase away from the scene. Witnesses described seeing a police car riddled with bullets being towed away from the scene of the standoff.
Navy petty officer Randall Smith, who was wounded in Thursday’s shooting at the Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, died early Saturday, the Navy said. He is the fifth U.S. service member to have died as a result of the attack. (New York Daily News)
All four of the Marines killed in the attack have been named – including two dads, a 21-year-old, and a Purple Heart recipient:
- Skip Wells of Marietta, Georgia, was the youngest of the four victims who was on a three-week training program when he was killed. He leaves his mother and girlfriend Caroline Dove, a fellow Marine, who said he had texted her about the active shooter moments before his death.
- Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, from Springfield, Massachusetts, received a Purple Heart for bravery during his two tours of Iraq. His friend Josh Parnell said, “There’s no Marine you would want that was better in combat than him. He’d been shot at so many times over the years and then for this to happen at home in the United States.”
- Sgt Carson Holmquist, of Grantsburg, Wisconsin, was a dedicated father. He leaves a young son Wyatt and wife Jasmine.
- David Wyatt, of Chattanooga, was originally from Arkansas. He a wife, Lorri, and their son and daughter.
This is what we know about Abdulazeez thus far:
1. Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait with Jordanian citizenship but became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996 when he was an infant after his parents had immigrated to the U.S.
2. He lived in Hixson, a prosperous community in Chattanooga’s Colonial Shores, in a Muslim family.
3. Abdulazeez attended Red Bank High School in Tennessee, where he was a starter for the varsity wrestling team and would sometimes miss practices so he could pray. He was reprimanded for losing too much weight when he fasted. Classmates and former school coaches described him as an “All American” student who came from a well-to-do family, but his behavior seemed to become more erratic and more religious. His former coach Scott Schrader told CNN Abdulazeez “was one of the nicest kids we trained.” Classmate Kagan Wagner said that Abdulazeez “always fit in”, “had a big group of friends” and “was never bullied or treated like an outcast. He was pretty popular.” According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, his high school yearbook quote was, “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
4. Abdulazeez graduated from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2012, with a degree in electrical engineering, according to a resume posted on Indeed.com. He worked from April 2009 to April 2010 as an intern with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned corporation that provides electricity to 9 million people in the southeast. He also had internships at Mohawk Industries and Global Trade Express. Abdulazeez worked as a nuclear engineer for FirstEnergy Corp in Ohio in 2013, but failed a background check, so was fired after training.
5. In April 2015, when police pulled over his car that reportedly smelled of marijuana, Abdulazeez was found with white powder around his face. He told cops he had crushed and snorted caffieine pills and refused to take a blood test. It was later forcefully taken through a warrant.
6. Abdulazeez’s father, Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez, was educated at Texas A&M University and works for Chattanooga’s Department of Public Works as a soil engineering specialist. He was investigated in the 1990s over possible links to terrorism but ultimately cleared. Abdulazeez Sr’s charitable donations were scrutinized by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI believed the Middle Eastern groups he was supporting had links to terrorism but ultimately dismissed the case. They will now re-examine the evidence in light of the son’s terror attack although there is no suggestion the father had any knowledge about his son’s plot.
Court documents reveal that not all was what it seemed behind the doors of the family’s comfortable two-storey suburban home. In 2009, Abdulazeez’s mother filed for divorce from his father accusing him of attacks on her and the children. Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez was accused of physically attacking his wife of 28 years and sexually assaulting her in front of their kids. He also wanted to take a second wife claiming it was permitted under Islamic law. The couple ultimately reconciled and stayed together.
7. A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no indication Abdulazeez was on the radar of federal law enforcement before the shootings. Abdulazeez was not being watched by the FBI or on any terror watchlists prior to the shooting.
8. But Abdulazeez had taken several mysterious trips to the Middle East. He spent seven months on a visit to Jordan between April and November 2014. He is also believed to have visited Yemen, while the Kuwait News Agency reported he traveled there and to Jordan at least four other times between 2003 and Spring 2010. Authorities are now scrambling to find out if he had spent any time with extremists on his travels. They are trawling though his seized cell phone and computer for proof of any radical contacts in the region.
9. In the past two or three months Abdulazeez’s religious interest seemed to have intensified. Members of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga say he had started to regularly attend Friday prayers at the mosque.
10. Just days before he went on his homicidal rampage, Abdulazeez had written two blog posts on a recently created website, both published on July 13, 2015. In the first posted, title “A Prison Called Dunya,” he wrote that life is “nothing more than a test of our faith and patience,” adding:
It was designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire, and to rank amongst them the best of the best and worst of the worst. Don’t let the society we live in deviate you from the task at hand. Take your study guide, the Quran and Sunnah, with strength and faith, and be firm as you live your short life in this prison called Dunya. Allah (SWT) says live for this life and the hereafter according to their length. Rasulullah says the life on this world compared to the hereafter is like a drop compared to an ocean.
Dr. Eowyn’s post first appeared at Fellowship of the Minds.