Yesterday’s murders in Chattanooga unleashed a hailstorm of speculation about the origins of the shooter, his motives, and whether or not he was affiliated with ISIS, al-Qaida, or another network of Islamic extremists.
Even before the authorities released the shooter’s name—Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez—reasonable speculation ensued. Throughout the course of the day, we learned that he was 24 years old, was a naturalized citizen from Kuwait, and that he was “religious,” but not the type of person any of his friends would peg as a budding terrorist.
The U.S. Attorney’s office has said that the attacks are being treated as an instance of domestic terrorism; the FBI, while not contradicting the U.S. Attorney, has cautioned against speculation as to Abdulazeez’s motives.
We know the names of the murdered Marines
Technicalities aside, the Marines have released the names of the four men he slaughtered in cold blood:
- Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan of Hampden, Massachusetts;
- Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, North Carolina;
- Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist of Polk, Wisconsin;
- Lance Cpl. Squire K. Wells of Cobb County, Georgia, who went by “Skip”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 17, 2015
The investigation continues, but the question weighing on everyone’s mind is clear: was this a planned hit by an Islamic terror organization? While we don’t have definitive proof that Abdulazeez was acting under the guidance of an extremist group, we do know a little bit more about his history, and how he pictured his attack panning out.
Origins in and travel to the Middle East
We know Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait, but right now, but Kuwaiti and Jordanian officials are in a spat over where this guy truly came from:
Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait in September 1990, during the Iraqi invasion of that country, Kuwait’s Interior Ministry said Friday. The ministry didn’t explain how Abdulazeez came to be born there but said he holds Jordanian citizenship.
Jordanian sources, however, denied that he was a Jordanian citizen, but rather a Palestinian who carried a Jordanian travel document. The sources said he was born Mohammad Youssuf Saeed Hajj Ali on September 5, 1990, but that his father changed his name that year to Abdulazeez.
U.S. law enforcement officials said he was a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Original origins aside, we do know that Abdulazeez has been visiting family in the Middle East:
A relative says the man accused of killing four Marines in Tennessee has family in the West Bank and that he visited Jordan last year.
The relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person feared repercussions, says Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez was a “nice, educated guy.” Abdulazeez met the relative for the first time during his visit to Jordan last year, and the two spoke for about an hour. During that time, the relative saw no hints of violence.
The relative says his parents are both from the West Bank.
The relative says the family are mainstream Muslims, not fundamentalists. The person says “they fast, they pray and that is it.”
Reuters reports that officials have not ruled out the possibility that Abdulazeez also traveled to Yemen, and are investigating any connection between his actions, and his father’s past trouble with the law:
Years ago, his father, Youssuf Abdulazeez, who attended Texas A&M University, came under investigation by a Joint Terrorism Task Force for possible connections to a militant group, one source said, but he was cleared of any association with terrorism or wrongdoing. It is possible but not certain that the probe resulted in the father’s name being placed on a terrorist watch list, according to that source.
The father worked since at least 2005 as a soil engineering specialist for Chattanooga city’s public work’s department, according to public records.
The suspect appears to have been following in his father’s footsteps, at least in terms of his occupational pursuits. According to a resume believed to have been posted online by Abdulazeez, he attended high school in a Chattanooga suburb and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2012 with an engineering degree. His work experience includes an internship with the Tennessee Valley Authority, a regional power utility.
Little online presence
Authorities are scrubbing the shooter’s computer for evidence of collaboration with a terror cell, but haven’t found much of an online presence at all, save for two blog posts hinting at a deeper attachment to Islam. Those posts have not been independently verified by media sources.
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) July 16, 2015
They did, however, discover that a man with a name spelled similar to Abdulazeez’s was arrested for DUI in April; other than that, he does not appear to have been on anyone’s radar, much less that of the intelligence community. His colleagues at Superior Essex, where he was a shift supervisor, describe him as “nice, polite, and well-spoken.”
How the Chattanooga gunman went from ordinary suburban citizen to a killer http://t.co/Zq1bV1QAEB
— TIME.com (@TIME) July 17, 2015
Abdulazeez planned for carnage
As for the weapons used during the attack, the FBI has confirmed to the media that at the time of the attack, Abdulazeez had at least two handguns and one long gun. We also know that he was wearing a vest designed to help him carry extra ammunition.
A local station has a video shot during the attacks. You can clearly hear gunfire:
He was planning for carnage, but authorities speaking under the condition of anonymity have said that there’s no evidence to suggest he knew any of his targets.
For now, it looks as though he acted alone; we’ll keep you posted if that changes.DONATE
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