Some Helpful Clues for Tennessee Terror Attack Investigators and the Perplexed Media
While investigators still put the pieces together from Thursday's terrorist attack in Chattanooga, there's a lot more we already know about the attacker, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
And yet, officials investigating the attack are apparently having problems identifying motive, and some observers still questioning whether this was even a terror attack.
So in the spirit of cooperation, let me offer some direction to investigators based on what we already know from what's been reported.
First comes the question of motive, which authorities appear to be baffled by.
An exclusive Reuters report gives us some fresh clues:
Hours before the Tennessee shooting that killed five U.S. servicemen, the suspected gunman texted his close friend a link to a long Islamic verse that included the line: "Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him."
His friend thought nothing of it at the time, but now wonders if it was a clue to Thursday's rampage in Chattanooga, which has re-ignited concerns about the radicalization of young Muslim men.
Hmmm... that might be pertinent to motive. The article also adds this:
Abdulazeez's friends said he had returned from a trip to Jordan in 2014 concerned about conflicts in the Middle East and the reluctance of the United States and other countries to intervene.
He later purchased three assault rifles on an online marketplace and used them for target practice, the friends said.
"That trip was eye-opening for him. He learned a lot about the traditions and culture of the Middle East," said the close friend who received the text message.
Abdulazeez was upset about the 2014 Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza and the civil war in Syria, he said. "He felt Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia were not doing enough to help, and that they were heavily influenced by the United States."
Another friend said, "He had always talked about it, but I'd say his level of understanding and awareness really rose after he came back."
Among those who knew Abdulazeez, this trip was apparently of some note for a change in his behavior:
And then there's the issue of exactly where he visited:
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.
Our own Bridget Johnson explores a possible angle to his trip to Yemen:
And the attack by Abdulazeez was a virtual copycat of the attack by Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (aka Carlos Bledsoe) targeting a Little Rock recruiting center in 2009, which killed Army Pvt. Andy Long and wounded another soldier.
Where was Muhammad/Bledsoe radicalized? Yemen, where he spent 18 months before returning to the U.S. and conducting his attack.
But it's not just his pre-attack text message and travel that should be of interest to investigators. There seems to be more direct evidence of his ideological motivation:
The killer of four U.S. Marines in Chattanooga maintained a short-lived blog that hinted at his religious inner life. Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez’s blog had only two posts, both published July 13 and written in a popular style of Islamic religious reasoning.
What did those blog posts divulge?
In the first, “A Prison Called Dunya,” Abdulazeez described everyday life as a prison and the Koran as a means of transcending it. In Arabic, “Dunya” refers to earthly concerns as opposed to spiritual ones.
“This life we are living is nothing more than a test of our faith and patience,” he wrote. “It was designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire ... Don’t let the society we live in deviate you from the task at hand.”
He added, “Brothers and sisters don’t be fooled by your desires, this life is short and bitter and the opportunity to submit to allah may pass you by.”
In his second posting, Abdulazeez discussed the Sahaba — companions of the prophet Muhammad — and how they served their faith by bringing it to the world, sometimes through warfare.
“Every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah,” he wrote. “Every one of them had to make sacrifices in their lives. . . . After the prophets, they were the best human beings that ever lived.”
The complete blog posts by Abdulazeez can still be found online.
And the New York Times helpfully informs us that authorities are looking at his previous ties to "extremist groups":
What extremist groups might Abdulazeez been involved with? The KKK? The Los Banditos motorcycle gang? The Tea Party? Southern gun culture?