An FBI official said this afternoon that they so far have “no indication” that Chattanooga gunman Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez was “inspired by or directed by anyone other than himself.”
Special agent in charge Ed Reinhold disputed an earlier assertion from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) that ISIS is likely involved.
“My judgment and my experience is that it was an ISIS-inspired attack,” McCaul told reporters at a press conference at Florida’s MacDill Air Force Base. “The targets are identical to the targets called by ISIS to attack.”
Abdulazeez wrote two blog posts on July 13 in which he talked about “what role we need to play to establish Islam in the world.”
“We have not classified it as an act of terrorism,” Reinhold stressed, noting the FBI “will treat it as an act of terrorism until it’s determined one way or the other.”
“We do not believe there’s an imminent threat to anyone in the Chattanooga area,” he added, noting the ISIS connection remains a “possibility.”
There were also questions about how Abdulazeez managed to kill four Marines at the Naval Reserve center even though he already had police on his tail from the site of the first shooting, at a strip mall military recruitment office.
The four Marines killed were Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, N.C.; Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan of Hampden, Mass.; Lance Cpl. Skip Wells of Cobb Ga.; and Sgt. Carson Holmquist of Polk, Wis.
Reinhold said they’re still studying the crime scenes to determine exactly what happened. “He was a moving target and he was obviously able to kill four Marines and wound the one sailor,” the agent said. “These officers were under a tremendous amount of gunfire from this individual.”
There’s “no indication” that Abdulazeez took his own life in the shootout, he confirmed.
Reinhold said Abdulazeez was wearing a load-bearing vest and carrying “at least two long guns — rifles or shotguns — and he did have one handgun that we’re aware of.”
“Some of the weapons were purchased legally and some may not have been,” he said.
Reinhold confirmed that investigators overseas are studying the gunman’s travel. Reuters reported that he may have stopped in Yemen last year when he went to visit family in Jordan.
Last week, the new leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Qasim al-Rimi, issued an audio message directing Muslims to “direct and gather your arrows and swords against” the United States.
ISIS published a new issue of its magazine Dabiq this week with a page dedicated to its “soldiers” in the West, what the U.S. government calls “lone wolves.” While the Islamic State’s members and online supporters have tweeted support for Abdulazeez, with many changing their Twitter avatars to his booking photo, there hasn’t been an official claim of responsibility from ISIS leadership.
Abdulazeez, who was born in Kuwait to Jordanian parents of Palestinian descent, had no prior encounters with law enforcement expect an April driving under the influence arrest, for which he was scheduled to appear in court at the end of this month.
His mother filed for divorce from his father in 2009, stating in court documents reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he beat their five children and inflicted physical, verbal and sexual abuse on her. He also told her he was going to take a second wife “as permitted under certain circumstances under Islamic law.”
Rasmia Abdulazeez withdrew the complaint against Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez, a soil engineering specialist for the Chattanooga Department of Public Works, 22 days later after he agreed to counseling and other terms.
Senate gun-control advocate Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said they need to study how they could have prevented Abdulazeez, an electrical engineering graduate employed in a supervisory role, from acquiring the guns.
“The despicable, devastating domestic terror attacks in Chattanooga show the urgent need for a comprehensive, overall review and revamping of security practices and policies at recruiting offices and reserve facilities,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “We need comprehensive review – and reform – to assure sufficient security. These brutal, brazen murders are a chilling reminder of the need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and deranged shooters.”
Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R) told CNN that the murders will move Islamic extremism to the front of Congress’ agenda.
“People are very concerned about homeland security. They’re concerned about what is happening on the security front in our world, whether it’s the Iran deal, dealing with ISIS, dealing with radical Islamic extremists,” Blackburn said. “What they want to know is that, in their homes, in their communities, they’re going to be safe, their children are going to be safe. So that issue will move more to the forefront, I think, as we move through the balance of this congressional session.”