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.
‘I didn’t see it as a hint at the time, but it may have been his way of telling me something,’ the friend told Reuters on Saturday. He requested anonymity for fear of a backlash.
The suspect, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was killed in a gunfight with police. The FBI is investigating the attack as an act of terrorism, but said it was premature to speculate on the gunman’s motive.
While a firm connection between the 24-year-old suspect and radical Islam has not been established, the shooting follows a series of attacks or thwarted attacks in the United States and other countries by Muslims claiming to be inspired by Islamic State or other militant groups.
Abdulazeez 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, according to two friends who knew him since elementary school.
He later purchased three assault rifles on an online marketplace and used them for target practice, they said.
‘That trip was eye-opening for him. He learned a lot about the traditions and culture of the Middle East,’ said one of the two friends, the person 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.’
The other friend said Abdulazeez had always talked about the Middle East, ‘but I’d say his level of understanding and awareness really rose after he came back.’
U.S. authorities said Abdulazeez sprayed gunfire at a joint military recruiting center in a strip mall in Chattanooga, then drove to a Naval Reserve Center about 6 miles (10 km) away, where he killed four Marines before he himself was shot dead.
Three other people were injured, including a sailor who died from his wounds on Saturday. The U.S. Navy identified the sailor as Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith of Paulding, Ohio, who left behind a wife and three young daughters.
‘He was an awesome young man,’ said Smith’s step-grandmother, Darlene Proxmire. ‘He loved his wife and children. He loved the Navy.’
Abdulazeez, an engineer, went to the Middle East in 2010 and visited several countries, said the first friend. He then went to Jordan in 2014 to work for his uncle, and lived with his uncle and his grandparents there, he said.
After Abdulazeez returned, he seemed more mellow, less interested in partying. ‘That is part of what drew us closer. He was a guy who wanted to settle down and get his life going. That connected us,’ he said.
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