Members of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez’s family believe deep depression and shame over an drunken driving charge may have led him to go on a rampage in which five U.S. servicemen died last week, a source close to the family said on Tuesday.
In seeking to understand what motivated last Thursday’s fatal shooting in Tennessee, relatives of the 24-year-old engineer have pointed to what they say was a tragic combination of factors, according to the source.
Substance abuse combined with long-standing psychological issues appears to have stirred up intense religious guilt, driving Abdulazeez to find forgiveness in a violent outburst, they believe.
Two days before the Chattanooga attack, Abdulazeez told his family he was going to work, the source said, but they learned from his friends that he instead took a marijuana and alcohol-fueled “joy ride” in a rented car.
The trigger for his “bender” was the worsening of depression that had dogged him for years, the family believes. He was also “very ashamed” about the drunken driving arrest in April and an impending court appearance, the family source said, and may have had difficulty reconciling his drinking and marijuana use with his Muslim faith.
The shooting follows a series of “lone wolf” attacks, or thwarted attacks, in the United States and other countries by Muslims claiming to be inspired by Islamic State, known as ISIL, or other militant groups.
“We don’t yet know all of the details behind the attack in Chattanooga, but we do know that al Qaeda and ISIL have encouraged attacks on American soil, including against our service members,” U.S. President Barack Obama said at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh. “And this threat of lone wolves and small cells is hard to detect and prevent.”
Obama ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-mast at the White House and other public buildings in honor of the four Marines and a Navy petty officer killed in Chattanooga.
Investigators have evidence that Abdulazeez searched for general jihadist propaganda that may have inspired the rampage, a source close to the investigation said on Monday, although no direct link has so far been found between the suspect and any radical group such as Islamic State or al Qaeda.
His family believes Abdulazeez was looking for spiritual guidance on how he might be forgiven for sins, the family source said, and that quest may have contributed to his decision to attack.
But investigators think Abdulazeez’s online activities included reading the writings of Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American militant preacher affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to a government source. Al Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The family did not know of any direct connection he may have had with radical groups or leaders, the source said.
“Under lock and key”
The family knew Abdulazeez had serious emotional problems, and for that reason sent him on a trip to Jordan between April and November 2014, escorted by his mother, the family representative said. A Kuwaiti-born naturalized U.S. citizen of Palestinian extraction, Abdulazeez stayed there largely “under lock and key,” supervised by an unnamed grandfather and uncle, the source said.
On Friday, the day after the shooting, Jordanian security services detained Abdulazeez’s uncle, Assad Ibrahim Abdulazeez Haj Ali, and took his mobile telephones and laptop, his lawyer told Reuters on Tuesday.
The lawyer, Abdul Qader al-Khatib, said by telephone from Jordan that authorities have prevented from seeing his client, who was been interrogated since then.
“The man has no political interests nor does he hold any ideology,” said the lawyer said, describing the detention as unjust and calling for his client’s release.
Abdulazeez visited no other countries in the region during his trip last year. His flight back to the United States made a scheduled stop in Qatar, but Abdulazeez never left the airport, Qatari officials and the family representative said on Tuesday.
Abdulazeez had made other trips to the Middle East earlier for family purposes, the representative said.
The suspect was killed in a gunfight with police after he sprayed gunfire at a military recruiting center in Chattanooga, then drove to a nearby Naval Reserve Center where he shot and killed four Marines. Three people were wounded, including a sailor who died on Saturday.
Thousands of mourners gathered in Marietta, Georgia, on Tuesday night at a memorial service for Marine Lance Corporal Squire K. “Skip” Wells, one of the five slain servicemen.
Wells, 21, a reservist and youngest victim of the attack, was the first to be honored individually at a memorial service. Reuters