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The Real Identity of the Chattanooga Shooter, Mohammad Abdulazeez

Hamilton County Sheriffs Office via AP

John Burger - published on 07/20/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Was he motivated by Islamist agenda, or just crazy?

The Chattanooga shooter has left not only five US servicemen dead, he also left an enigma. Who was he, and what were his motives?

An investigation is still ongoing—the FBI is treating it as a terrorism investigation until they learn enough to suggest otherwisebut details have been emerging from Mohammad Abdulazeez’ posts on social media, a diary that he kept, and leaks from law enforcement officials.

General jihadist propaganda on the Internet may have inspired Abdulazeez, a source close to the investigation told Reuters on Monday. The source said that authorities had not established a direct link between Abdulazeez and specific groups such as Islamic State, but Abdulazeez was following radical al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki online in 2013.

CNN reported that Abdulazeez, who killed four Marines June 16 and fatally shot a young sailor at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., before being killed in an exchange of gunfire with police, was displeased with the U.S. government, particularly its war on terror. That’s according to writings uncovered by investigators, sources told CNN.

The writings are not thought to be recent
some are more than a year old, predating his much-publicized trip to Jordan
and should not be considered a diary of any sort, according to a person familiar with the family’s interviews with investigators and a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.

Abdulazeez’ 2014 visit to Jordan also is a source of confusion, as his family said it was only a way to get him away from bad influences in the US, while some friends have noted that he came back a changed man.

CNN quoted a friend as saying he had changed and "distanced himself" for the first few months after returning.

"Something happened over there," Abdulrazzak Pirzada said of the trip, adding that "he never became close to me like he was before he went overseas. … I’m sure he had something that happened to him overseas."

The FBI is hearing a similar assessment from speaking with Jordanian officials about the gunman’s contacts while in their country, the New York Times reported. All indications are that “there is something different about him after he returned home,” an official told the Times. “He was different, but it does not appear that he was showing the typical outward signs of someone who was going to lash out violently. It does not appear from the interviews that he was saying a lot of anti-U.S. things to his friends.”

Writings uncovered by investigators include anti-U.S. sentiments, sources told CNN. Authorities are investigating a text message Abdulazeez sent a friend before the attack, law enforcement sources told CNN. The message included an Islamic verse that says, "Whoever shows enmity to a friend of mine, then I have declared war against him."

The investigation so far has also turned up disparate facts about Abdulazeez, who was once a disciplined mixed-martial-arts fighter, a top student who was charming and humorous. He apparently was suicidal and had a hard time keeping a job because of a manic depressive/bipolar disorder and drug use. He had sought treatment with a psychiatrist, was thousands of dollars in debt and was preparing to file for bankruptcy.

In spite of drinking alcohol, he was also a devout Muslim who kept in touch with his roots in the Middle East.

Abdulazeez’s diary says that as far back as 2013, he wrote about having suicidal thoughts and "becoming a martyr" after losing his job due to his drug use, both prescription and non-prescription drugs, a family representative said, according to ABC News.

Most recently, the 24-year-old was having problems dealing with a 12 hour overnight shift, and had to take sleeping pills, according to the representative. … T
hree months before the shooting, Abdulazeez was arrested on April 20
a day celebrated annually by marijuana users
and charged with drunk driving. The arresting officer noted a smell of marijuana in the car.

The family representative said Sunday that the family told the FBI there were no outward signs of radicalization but added Abdulazeez “was susceptible to bad influences” and would be affected by watching news accounts of “children being killed in Syria.” 

The family did not try to explain why he targeted two military facilities, however.

Islamist Militants
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