Alyssa Spirato / WTVC-TV NewsChannel 9 / Reuters

Gunman who killed four Marines at Tennessee base thought to be lone wolf

FBI official says, ‘There is no indication at this point that anybody else was involved’

Investigators have no evidence that anyone but a lone gunman was involved in the fatal shooting of four marines at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said an FBI official late on Tuesday night.

The gunman, identified by FBI officials in Knoxville, was 24-year-old Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, although the spelling of his first name was in dispute, with federal officials and records giving at least four variations. He was believed to have been born in Kuwait, and it was unclear whether he was a U.S. or Kuwaiti citizen, a U.S. official requesting anonymity told The Associated Press. He resided in Hixson, Tennessee, which is a few miles across the river from Chattanooga.

Abdulazeez fired from inside his car when he went to the recruitment center, but then got out of the vehicle to shoot the four marines at the training center, FBI agent Ed Reinhold told a news conference late Thursday.

In addition to the Marines killed, three people were reported wounded, including a sailor who was seriously hurt.

Authorities would not say how the gunman died, but the U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Chattanooga police fired the fatal shot that killed him. At least one military commander at the scene also fired at Abdulazeez with his personal weapon, but forensic investigators determined that police killed him, the official said.

Reinhold said Abdulazeez had "numerous weapons" but would not give details. He said investigators have "no idea" what motivated the shooter, but "we are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism, whether it's domestic, international, or whether it was a simple criminal act."

Reinhold also said late Thursday "there is no indication at this point that anybody else was involved."

"Obviously, we're still at the beginning of this investigation," he said. "We will explore any possibility and that includes whether or not anyone else was involved."

U.S. Attorney Bill Killian told the news conference that "as far as we know at this juncture, there are no safety concerns for the general public." Earlier in the day Killian had called the killings an “act of domestic terrorism.” 

The mugshot of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (booked as Mohammad Youssduf Abdulazeer, according to Hamilton County police documents) after he was arrested on April 20, 2015 for a DUI.
Police handout

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement that she had "directed the FBI to take the lead in the national security investigation of this heinous attack on members of our military."

Soon after the shootings, Mayor Andy Berke said “This is a nightmare for the city of Chattanooga."

Within hours of the bloodshed, law officers with guns drawn swarmed what was believed to be Abdulazeez's house, and two women were led away in handcuffs. It was not clear who they were, and on Thursday night, Berke said he could not comment whether or not they had been arrested. 

A dozen law enforcement vehicles, including a bomb-squad truck and an open-sided Army green truck carrying armed men, rolled into the Hixson neighborhood, and police closed off streets and turned away people trying to reach their homes

The shootings happened minutes apart, with the gunman spraying dozens of bullets at a recruiting center for all branches of the military and then apparently driving to a Navy-Marine training center 7 miles away, authorities and witnesses said. The attacks were over within a half-hour.

A military official said the Marines were slain when shots were fired in a Navy-Marine center. The wounded Marine was hit by gunfire fired at an Armed Forces recruiting center not far away, the official said on condition of anonymity.

“Lives have been lost from some faithful people who have been serving our country, and I think I join all Tennesseans in being both sickened and saddened by this,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.

Sgt. 1st Class Robert Dodge, 36, the center leader for U.S. Army recruiting at the facility on Old Lee Highway, said four Army personnel were in the office at the time. He said the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and National Guard all have their own offices right next to each other. Around 10:30 or 10:45 a.m., Dodge and the others heard a gunshot, “which kind of sparked our attention,” he said.

“Shortly after that, just a few seconds, the shooter began shooting more rounds. We realized it was an actual shooting,” he said. They then got on the ground and barricaded themselves in a safe place. Dodge estimated there were 30 to 50 shots fired. He did not see the shooter or a vehicle.

Marilyn Hutcheson, who works at Binswanger Glass just across the street from the U.S. Naval Reserve building on Amnicola Highway, said she heard a barrage of gunfire around 11 a.m.

“I couldn't even begin to tell you how many,” she said. “It was rapid fire, like pow pow pow pow pow, so quickly. The next thing I knew, there were police cars coming from every direction.”

President Barack Obama, who received a briefing Thursday afternoon from FBI director James Comey, spoke from the Oval Office. He called the attack a "heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals, who served with great valor, to be killed in this fashion."

He stopped short of using the word "terrorism," adding that "we have to make sure we have all the info necessary to make an assessment of how this attack took place."

Abdulazeez graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012 with a bachelor's in electrical engineering, according to university spokesman Mike Andrews and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned utility that operates power plants and dams across the South, confirmed that he was a student intern there a few years ago..

He was arrested on April 20, 2015 on a DUI charge, Hamilton County police records show. 

A U.S. official briefed on the investigation told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that there is no indication Abdulazeez was under investigation by the FBI or on the radar of federal law enforcement at the time of the shooting.

The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center said it has seen nothing so far to connect Abdulazeez to any terrorist organization.

The SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks international groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) said that Abdulazeez blogged on Monday that "life is short and bitter" and Muslims should not miss an opportunity to "submit to Allah."  

The Daily Beast reported the blog had only two posts, both published on July 13.

The New York Times, citing unnamed law enforcement officials, reported that his father had been under investigation several years ago over possible ties to a foreign terrorist organization and had been on a terrorist watch list.

The father was later removed from that list and the investigation did not reveal any information about his son, the Times said.

Mary Winter, president of the Colonial Shores Neighborhood Association, said she had known Abdulazeez and his family for more than 10 years and was stunned at the crime.

"We're all shocked and saddened," Winter said. "He never caused any trouble. We can't believe that this happened. We were just planning to have a swim team banquet tonight."

The victims of the shooting have not been named as their families are still being notified, Obama said.

A prayer vigil in their honor will be held at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga on Friday evening, the center's president, Dionne Jennings, said in a statement.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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