Chattanooga: FBI investigates gunman’s motive for shooting of four US marines – Claire Phipps/The Guardian
A man suspected of shooting dead four marines in a rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had no known links to international terrorist groups, the FBI has said, as officials continued to investigate the motive behind the deadly attack.
The 24-year-old gunman, identified as Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, opened fire on Thursday at two military sites in the city, killing four marines and injuring three others, one seriously.
The killer was also shot dead, although the circumstances of his death are not yet known.
Bill Killian, US attorney for the eastern district of Tennessee, told reporters officials were treating the attacks as an act of “domestic terrorism”, although the FBI said it would be “premature to speculate on the motives of the shooter at this time”.
Security was being stepped up at some federal facilities, Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. But officials in Tennessee stressed there were no safety concerns for the general public, and the suspect was thought to have acted alone.
In a late-night briefing on Thursday, Ed Reinhold, FBI special agent in charge, said the gunman had been in possession of several weapons.
But he said that at this stage of the investigation, officials had “no idea” of the suspect’s motivation: “At this point, we don’t have anything that directly ties him to international terrorist organisations.”
Reinhold said there were three active crime scenes – including the Armed Forces career center, the site of the first attack, at which the gunman fired several bullets without leaving his car, a silver open-top Ford Mustang.
The shooting began around 10.45am at a strip mall on the Lee Highway in Chattanooga. A man in a car stopped in front of the recruiting center, shot at the building and drove off, said Brian Lepley, a spokesman with the US army recruiting command in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Images from the scene showed bullet holes peppering the door and windows of the center. Nobody was killed in this initial attack.
A short time later, reports were made of a second shooting at a naval reserve center seven miles away, where the suspect left his car and entered via a gate.
The four victims and the gunman were all killed at this location.
Three injured people – identified locally as a female Navy sailor, a marine and a male police officer – were taken to Erlanger hospital. Speaking late on Thursday night, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said the sailor was in a serious condition, and described her as “fighting for [her] life”. He said the police officer’s injuries were “not too serious”.
Their names – and those of the four marines killed – have not yet been released.
Corker said those inside the naval facility were not armed, a decision he said had been taken by the Pentagon. The recruiting center on Lee Highway had “absolutely no security”, he said.
In the hours after the attacks, law enforcement officials swooped on Hixson, a suburb in the north of Chattanooga, where Abdulazeez had lived. Two women were taken away from a property in handcuffs, although Reinhold said this was common practice “for the safety of the officers” and no one was in custody.
Mary Winter, president of the local Colonial Shores Neighborhood Association, said she had known Abdulazeez and his family for more than a decade. “We’re all shocked and saddened,” Winter said. “He never caused any trouble. We can’t believe that this happened.”
Abdulazeez was arrested in Chattanooga in April this year for a traffic offence, but was otherwise thought not to have been in trouble with police.
He is believed to have been born in Kuwait, but it is unclear whether he was a US or Kuwaiti citizen.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist groups, said that Abdulazeez had blogged on Monday that “life is short and bitter” and Muslims should not miss an opportunity to “submit to Allah”. The Guardian could not independently verify the blog postings.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga said Abdulazeez had been a student there, graduating in 2012 with a degree in electrical engineering.
In his Red Bank high school year book, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, a photo of Abdulazeez was accompanied by a quote reading: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
Hussnain Javid, who attended the same high school in a different year group to Abdulazeez, said the suspected gunman had been on the school wrestling team and had been “very outgoing”.
Scott Schrader, Abdulazeez’s mixed martial arts (MMA) coach, told CNN that the young man’s parents had “come down on him pretty hard” after they witnessed him striking an opponent in the face during a bout. Scharder said Abdulazeez’s father had reportedly considered it “haraam” (forbidden) by Islam.
The Tennessee Valley Authority confirmed that he had worked as a student intern a few years ago at the authority, a federal utility that operates power plants and dams across the South.
President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the victims’ families and said officials will be prompt and thorough in getting answers on the shootings.
“It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who have served our country with great valor to be killed in this fashion,” he said in a statement from the Oval Office.
Memorial services for the victims were held in Chattanooga on Thursday evening. The New York Times reported that the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, a mosque where Abdulazeez had attended prayers, had cancelled its Eid-al-Fitr celebrations on Friday out of respect for the four marines.