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Death Toll Rises in Chattanooga Islamic Terror Attack

Saturday brought more somber news of a fifth victim of the Islamic terror massacre perpetrated by 24 year old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. He was killed by Chattanooga police in the rampage at a Naval/Marine Recruiting Center on Thursday, July 17, 2015.  The Wall Street Journal reported:

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith was a reservist serving on active duty in Chattanooga. Officials said he died early Saturday morning. Mr. Smith, 26 years old, joined the Navy because he was inspired by the service of his late grandfather, said his step-grandmother, Darlene Proxmire. Mr. Smith was a married father of three girls and grew up in Paulding, Ohio, she said.

The other victims were four Marines:

Along with Mr. Smith, four Marines were killed in the attacks. U.S. official and family members on Friday confirmed the identities of the deceased Marines: Thomas Sullivan, of Springfield, Mass.; Skip Wells, from Marietta, Ga.; David Wyatt, of Hixson, Tenn.; and Carson Holmquist, of Grantsburg, Wis.

More emerges on the shooter-Abdulazeez and his family

The shooter, Abdulazeez, was a Kuwait-born naturalized U.S. citizen. He was a 2012 graduate the University of Tennessee –Chattanooga with a degree in electrical engineering who lived with his parents in nearby Hixson, Tennessee. He had just started a position with a local cable and wire firm.  The parents may have been among several hundred thousand Palestinians expelled from Kuwait following the First Gulf War in 1991, many of whom fled to Jordan. These Palestinians, unlike those who fled Israel during the 1948-1949 War, were not covered by the UNWAR refugee program. Rather they were eligible for refugee and asylum status under the UNHCR program.  The New York Times reported:

Born in Kuwait in 1990, Mr. Abdulazeez became an American citizen in 2003 through the naturalization of his mother, federal officials said; his father was also naturalized. Because he was a minor, he did not have to apply separately for citizenship. A divorce complaint filed by his mother in 2009 and then withdrawn, said the parents were from “the State of Palestine.”

Counterterrorism officials had not been investigating Mr. Abdulazeez before Thursday’s shootings. His father had been investigated about seven years ago for giving money to an organization that apparently had ties to Hamas. … The investigation did not result in charges. But the father was placed on a watch list for a while. A similar investigation was conducted in the 1990s and it, too, did not lead to charges.

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said the watch list had for a time prevented the elder Mr. Abdulazeez from flying. “I believe there was a preliminary investigation, but there was no derogatory information, and he was taken off the list,” he said.

The shooter appears to have been heavily armed in the rampage, equipped with an assault weapon and two other long guns. It is reported that he purchased on-line some of the weapons for the rampage including an AK-47, AR 15, Saiga 12. He had also purchased two 7mm and 22 caliber side arms. He had a history of interest in guns, trained in using them at a local range and firing BBs at targets in the backyard of family’s home in Hixson. He also had a history of alcohol and drug related problems.  Following his graduation from UT-Chattanooga he received an offer of employment at a nuclear plant operated by Cleveland-based First Energy. Abdulazeez had been an intern at a TVA nuclear facility during his undergraduate career. A mandatory First Energy employment drug test in 2013 resulted in the loss of his job.  Notwithstanding, Islamic prohibitions against alcohol and drugs, Abdulazeez sought counseling for the problem in 2012 and 2013. Nevertheless the problem persisted as attested by his being arrest   in April 2015 on a DUI charge by Chattanooga police. A New York Times article noted the circumstances:

The only run-in Mr. Abdulazeez had with the law in the Chattanooga area appears to have been an April 20 arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated; he posted a $2,000 bond.

According to a police affidavit, officers spotted him weaving through downtown Chattanooga after 2 a.m., in a gray 2001 Toyota Camry, and when they pulled him over, they smelled alcohol and marijuana, and he failed a sobriety test. They said his eyes were bloodshot, his speech was slurred, he was “unsteady on his feet,” and he had “irritated nostrils” and white powder under his nose, which Mr. Abdulazeez said came from snorting, crushed caffeine pills. He was scheduled to appear in court on July 30.

Those trips to Jordan

Abdulazeez, who held a US passport, made several trips to Jordan beginning in 2003 to visit a maternal uncle and family. He also made a side trip to Kuwait during a 2008 trip to Jordan. His father accompanied him on a trip in 2010 to Jordan after his no fly status had been lifted.  He made a 2013 trip to Jordan that returned home via Canada.   In April 2014, he purchased a one way ticket to Jordan, finally returning home via Doha, Qatar. What he did and where he went on that trip has yet to be determined, by law enforcement, FBI and foreign intelligence sources.  At issue is whether he made contact with the Al Nusra front or Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, the Islamic Action Front, or possibly ISIS via social media and whether he made a possible trip to either Iraq or Syria.  A WSJ report commented on the final trip to Jordan by Abdulazeez:

Mr. Abdulazeez wasn’t a familiar figure among jihadists in Jordan, according to Mohammad Shaabi, known as Abu Sayyaf, who sympathizes with the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. He said it is still possible Mr. Abdulazeez could have contacted extremists through means such as social media.

A few ISIS sympathizers on Twitter referred to Mr. Abdulazeez after the shooting as “a soldier of the Islamic State” and “an individual lion.”

Evidence of Family Problems – Bankruptcy and a Divorce Filing

The Abdulazeez family went through a spate of difficulties.  The father Youssuf filed for bankruptcy in 2002 which was completed by 2005. More troubling was a divorce filing by his wife Rasmieh I. Abdulazeez in 2009.  The Times reported:

Mrs. Abdulazeez said that her husband, Youssef S. Abdulazeez, had “repeatedly beaten” her and had “on occasion” abused the children by “striking and berating them without provocation or justification.”

The complaint also accused Mr. Abdulazeez of sexual and verbal abuse, and of declaring his intentions “to take a second wife, as permitted under certain circumstances under [Sharia] Islamic law.”

Evidence of Anti-Israel, US Animus and Salafism in final text message

Abdulazeez had evidenced concerns about IDF actions during the 2014 summer rocket war by Hamas.  According to a Reuters report, friends noted that following the 2014 trip he became increasingly concerned about Middle East conflicts. It was after the final trip that he went on-line and purchased weapons and went to practice using them at a gun range.  Friends said:

Abdulazeez’s friends, who asked not to be identified for fear of a backlash, said he was upset about the 2014 Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza and the civil war in Syria.

“He felt Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia were not doing enough to help, and that they were heavily influenced by the United States,” said the friend who received the text message.

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.”

A text message containing a Hadith sent the night before the attack may have indicated his adoption of fundamentalist Islam:

“Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of mine, and then I have declared war against him”.

An Islamic expert explained:

For jihadists and ultraconservative Salafist Sunni Muslims, the Hadith “is usually understood within the context of al-wala wa-l-bara (or) love for Islam and hatred for its enemies,” said David Cook, an associate professor who specializes in Islam in the department of religion at Rice University in Texas.

Pew Trust Islamic Extremism chart

Conclusion

The nationwide outpouring of mourning and grief at the wanton killing of five US service personnel in this Islamic inspired jihad at the Chattanooga Naval/Marine Recruiting Center was palpable.   The immediate national reaction to the tragic attack by troubled Abdullazeez was reflected in an offer by Governor Rick Scott in Florida to provide security by moving military recruitment centers in Florida to local National Guard armories.  There were also calls for lifting state laws barring US military uniformed personnel from carrying side arms.

There was still the conundrum of how federal and state law enforcement and homeland security agencies can prevent another Islamic inspired homeland jihad and acknowledge the threat.  Ultimately, it will require a new more responsive and clear eyed Administration. An Administration that appreciates what a recent Pew Trust poll has found: a surge to 53% of Americans concerned over domestic Islamic extremism.  Concern over ISIS is even higher at 73% of those polled by the Pew Trust.

The Chattanooga Recruitment Center massacre has another poignant side effect. It took six years for the Pentagon to award Purple Hearts to the service victims of both the  June 2009 Little Rock Army Recruitment Center attack and the November 2009 Fort Hood Massacre perpetrated by domestic Jihadis. We hope that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and incoming Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, Jr. will waste no time in making suitable posthumous awards to the grieving families and loved ones recognizing these valiant service personnel who died in combat against domestic Islamic terrorism in our midst.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is courtesy of the Miami-Herald.