Richard Valdmanis and Mark Hosenball, Reuters, July 17, 2015
U.S. authorities believe the suspect in the fatal shootings of four Marines in Tennessee visited Jordan last year and possibly Yemen as well, two U.S. government sources said on Friday, as investigators looked for any connection to Islamist militants. Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old Kuwait-born U.S. citizen, who the FBI identified as the shooter, died on Thursday in a firefight with police after he killed the Marines and wounded three other people in a rampage at two military facilities in Chattanooga.
A little more than 24 hours after the shooting, the FBI said it continued to investigate it as an act of terrorism and that it was “premature” to speculate on the motive. Abdulazeez’s travel was part of the investigation.
Born to Palestinian parents and raised in a Chattanooga suburb, Abdulazeez may have family in Jordan, investigators believe, making a visit to that country highly likely, one of the sources close to the probe said. He may have made several stops, and a visit to Yemen has not been ruled out.
Beyond direct contacts, law enforcement officials have said they are investigating whether Abdulazeez, who was raised as a Muslim, was inspired by Islamic State or similar militant groups. Islamic State had threatened to step up violence in the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ends on Friday evening.
Abdulazeez, who studied engineering at a local university, is believed to have traveled to the Middle East between April and November 2014, according to one of the sources, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
The suspect, who was seen on Thursday driving an open-top Ford Mustang, sprayed gunfire at a joint military recruiting center in a strip mall, riddling the glass facade with bullet holes, then drove to a Naval Reserve Center about 6 miles (10 km) away, where he killed the Marines before he himself was killed.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist groups, said Abdulazeez blogged on Monday “life is short and bitter” and that Muslims should not miss an opportunity to “submit to Allah.” Reuters could not independently verify the postings.
Investigators believe family or psychological issues may have contributed, according to the second source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
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 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.
Mohammod had an arrest on his record from April 20 and was charged with driving under the influence.
The family also appears to have undergone upheaval in 2009, when the mother, Rasmia Abdulazeez, petitioned for divorce, according to court documents. She argued that her husband had been abusive and beaten her and her children. The suit was dismissed without prejudice soon after and the couple signed a post-nuptial agreement.
The Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, where the New York Times said the suspect and his family worshipped, canceled activities planned to celebrate Eid, marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, according to its website.
An interview with one of Mohammod’s four siblings in the Chattanooga Times Free Press from 2010 suggested that as students at Red Bank High School, they encountered misconceptions of Islam and harassment by fellow students.
“There’s this misconception that Islam is a violent religion. Muslims are actually peaceful,” a 17-year old Yasmeen Abdulazeez said back then.