Bits and pieces have emerged over the past few days about Muhammad
Youssef Abdulazeez’s troubled life. But two significant pieces of the
puzzle are missing: Why did he ambush two military sites, killing four
Marines and a sailor? And was he propelled to do so by his own demons or
at the direction of someone else?
Until last Thursday’s
shooting, the Kuwait-born 24-year-old was not on the radar of terrorism
investigators. As a result, a portrait of his background, contacts,
computer use and travels must be assembled from the ground up and pieced
together.


 

He blended into everyday life in Chattanooga as a clean-cut
high school wrestler who graduated from college with an engineering
degree and regularly attended a local mosque.

But he also had a more turbulent side, as evidenced by his
arrest for drunken driving after returning from Jordan. He was set to
face a judge later this month.
Abdulazeez was killed in a
shootout with police at a Marine-Navy facility where the slain
servicemen were killed. Authorities said Abdulazeez was driving a rented
silver Mustang convertible, wore a vest with extra ammunition and
wielded at least two long guns – either rifles or shotguns – and a
handgun.
On Monday, yellow police tape still blocked access to it and law enforcement vehicles were parked nearby with lights flashing.
About
7 miles away, in a small strip shopping centre, hundreds of people –
many carrying American flags and some with Confederate battle flags –
gathered outside the military recruiting office where the rampage began.
The windows, several of which were pocked with bullet holes after the
shooting, have since been covered with plywood.

Members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Chattanooga Police Department escort a hearse carrying the body of slain U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith. Photo / AP
Members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol and
the Chattanooga Police Department escort a hearse carrying the body of
slain U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith. Photo / AP

The shooting prompted governors in at least a half-dozen
states to authorise National Guardsmen to take up arms to protect
recruiting offices and installations. The federal government has so far
not issued such a directive, but said security would be reviewed.
Friends
and family said Abdulazeez’s behavior in the days and months leading up
to the shooting was typical. He was seen dribbling a soccer ball in his
yard. He told two longtime friends he was excited about his new job at a
company that designs and makes wire and cable products.
“Everything
seemed fine. He was normal. He was telling me work was going great,”
said one of the friends, Ahmed Saleen Islam, 26, who knew Abdulazeez
through the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga and saw him at the
mosque two or three nights before the attacks.
Neighbours
recalled stories about a man who played with the neighbourhood kids
growing up and gave a lift to a neighbour who became stranded in a
snowstorm. He owned guns and would shoot squirrels and practice on
targets behind his house. He even described himself as an “Arab
redneck,” a person close to the family said on the condition of
anonymity out of concern it would have business repercussions.
Bilal
Sheikh, 25, said he saw his friend at the mosque two weekends ago, as
they came to pray and as part of the services to celebrate Ramadan.

Kip Wells, left, holds photos of his son Marine Lance Cpl. Squire Wells, who was one of the victims of the shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Photo / AP
Kip Wells, left, holds photos of his son
Marine Lance Cpl. Squire Wells, who was one of the victims of the
shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo / AP


“I’m in total shock, like everyone else,” Sheikh said. “He
was always the most cheerful guy. If you were having a bad day, he would
brighten your day.”
But the person close to the family talked
about a darker side of Abdulazeez. He was first treated by a child
psychiatrist for depression when he was 12 or 13 years old and several
years ago, relatives tried to have him admitted to an in-patient program
for drug and alcohol abuse but a health insurer refused to approve the
expense.
Abdulazeez had spent several months in Jordan last year
under a mutual agreement with his parents to help him get away from
drugs, alcohol and a group of friends who relatives considered a bad
influence, the person said.
Court records point to a volatile
family life. His mother filed for divorce in 2009 and accused her
husband of sexually assaulting her and abusing their children. She later
agreed to reconcile.
A year after graduating from college with
an engineering degree, Abdulazeez lost a job at a nuclear power plant in
Ohio in May 2013 because of what a federal official described as a
failed drug test.
Recently, Abdulazeez had begun working the
night shift at a manufacturing plant and was taking medication to help
with problems sleeping in the daytime, the person said, and he also had a
prescription for muscle relaxants because of a back problem.
Abdulazeez
was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence April 20. He
told a Chattanooga officer he was with friends who had been smoking
marijuana. The report said Abdulazeez, who had white powder on his nose
when he was stopped, told the officer he also had sniffed powdered
caffeine.
The arrest was “important” because Abdulazeez was
deeply embarrassed and seemed to sink further into depression following
the episode, the person said. Some close relatives learned of the charge
only days before the shooting.
The family believes his personal struggles could be at the heart of last week’s killings, the person close to them said.
“They
do not know of anything else to explain it,” said the person, who has
been in contact with the family several times since the shootings
Thursday.