Chattanooga: The man behind the shootings, divided loyalties, and a case of mistaken identity


Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (Image Hamilton County Sheriffs Office via AP)

It is unclear at this present time exactly what motivated Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (24) a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Kuwait to turn on two US military establishments in Chattanooga, Tennessee shooting dead 4 marines and wounding 3 other persons. The deceased were named as, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Lance Clp. Squire K. Wells, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Sgt. Carson Holmquist. A 5th person who died later from his injuries was named as Randall Smith, a US Navy logistics specialist. Abdulazeez who was said to be armed with “numerous weapons” was the 6th person to die in the incident.

The attack on Combined Armed Forces Recruiting Center and a military facility housing a Naval Operational Support Center and Marine Reserve Center is according to U.S. Attorney Bill Killian being treated as “domestic terrorism”. Newsweek reports,

“the FBI said that at the first military site, Abdulazeez shot from inside his vehicle. He then drove about 15 miles to the second facility, exited his vehicle, and opened fire again. An autopsy will be performed to learn more about how Abdulazeez was killed.”

See link below for an ABC report on the incident,

“Chattanooga Shooting: Four Marines Dead in Shooting at Military Offices”

Background on Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez

To date there is no indication as to whether Abdulazeez who studied engineering for 4 years at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and enjoyed wrestling and martial arts was a “lone wolf” or inspired, connected to any terrorist organization. Sandy Shrader who trained Abdulazeez told ABC,

“it’s been kind of surreal, I said, no, that’s crazy because I trained that kid. He was a great kid. I’m kind of in the position that I mourn for the kid that he was, but I have utter contempt for the man he became.”


A page from Abduleez’s school yearbook (Image via BBC)

Investigators are exploring comments on Abdulazeez’s Facebook page in an effort to determine his thinking. They are also looking into a trip to Jordan he made which a friend claimed changed him and a possible visit to Yemen. This was a young man who was a practising Muslim, prayed 5 times a day but was also detained for a drink driving offence (alcohol is forbidden in Islam).

ABC reported Abdulazeez briefly worked at Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio but only for 10 days as he did not fit basic requirements. He allegedly failed a background test though “was never granted unescorted access and never entered the secured area of the plant”. Reuters also reported, according to unnamed law enforcement officials, “the gunman’s father was at one point on a terrorist watch list and was questioned while on a trip overseas.” However there was also caution as this was an old investigation and did not raise anything to implicate Abdulazeez whose father was eventually removed from the watch list. Other media reports including the Daily Beast alleged Abdulazeez came from an abusive family background another possible consideration when looking at his mindset. The FBI released the following as an initial statement on the shootings,

“the FBI’s Knoxville Field Office, along with the Chattanooga Police Department and other law enforcement partners, are working jointly to investigate today’s shootings at a military recruitment center and a reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee in which four individuals were killed and three injured. The shooter, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, is also deceased. While it would be premature to speculate on the motives of the shooter at this time, we will conduct a thorough investigation of this tragedy and provide updates as they are available.”

Abduleezeez’s actions were strongly condemned by many including President Obama who promised a prompt and thorough investigation.

Charlie Daniels didn’t think Obama went far enough when he tweeted,

Mr President Americans in my home state died at the hands of a MUSLIM extremist yesterday and you refuse to even call them what they are

Divided loyalties for Muslim Americans?


Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga decided not to celebrate Eid to remember those killed by Abdulazeez

The Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga attended by Abdulazeez took the decision not to celebrate Eid al-Fitr which marks the ending of Ramadan and issued the following statement from Bassam Issa, President of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga,

“we are tremendously saddened by today’s shooting in our home town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Our hearts are with the families of the brave Marines who died today and with the police officer and two bystanders who were shot and injured in this cowardly act.

We condemn this act in the strongest possible terms as one of cowardice and hate. At the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, we don’t see our community center as a “Muslim” community; we are Chattanoogans first, and we see ourselves as part of the larger community of Tennesseans grieving today’s act.”

It is understandable that the Islamic Center would wish to condemn strongly the attack and express their deep concern at the shooter coming from their own community, however some Muslims are already questioning does the statement go too far? Muslims by the nature of their faith are expected to see their commitment to Islam and Allah as being first and foremost in their lives and should not have to deny their Muslim identity. Although the killings are seen by the Center as abhorrent, it is essential to try to discover the reasoning behind the attack and explore the challenges faced by those who are both Muslim and American. Something which may well have occupied the mind of Abdulazeez.

The statement from the Islamic Center refers to the death of “brave Marines” (one was awarded a Purple heart). However, what we must not forget is that 3 of those killed served in Iraq, (a war which is seen to be “illegal” as the decision to go to war was based on false information) and Afghanistan which was a war also viewed as highly controversial. CNN reported what is generally viewed as the government line,

“the four joined the Marines to serve their country, willing to go to dangerous lands out of a sense of duty, idealism and patriotism. And three of them did so, risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, the men died together on home turf, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.”

See, “4 Marines killed in Chattanooga were beloved family members”

The comment from CNN may well reflect the view of many Americans but US and allies invasion and occupation of Iraq was mired in the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians aside from combatants and the many other violent deaths. Some will view Iraq and Afghanistan very differently. The war led to a huge escalation of conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims ongoing to this day. There was a culture of torture within Iraq’s prisons such as Abu Ghraib that was so bad it helped spawn the anger and hatred which led to the forming of Islamic State. Afghanistan was invaded, occupied, fiercely bombarded with jets and drone strikes and is home to the notorious Bagram prison where again many detainees were subjected to horrific torture. Now Afghans suffer brutal human rights abuses according to human rights organizations under the very institutions put in place and financed by US after removal of the Taliban from power. Does the Islamic Centre go along with the government narrative on Iraq and Afghanistan? Is there fear in expressing an alternative viewpoint in case of reprisals?

The behaviour of then President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair and the allied forces in Iraq has led to accusations of “war crimes”. In the UK, the Chilcott Inquiry has been set up to consider, “the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.” The Islamic Center has taken the decision not to celebrate Eid due to the attack on the military. I wonder did the Center ever cancel Eid in sympathy with all the Iraqis and Afghans that suffered for years at the hands of the west? America and its allies must now face the horrors they helped create and the consequences.


Image from Islamic State hacking division warning in relation to US armed forces members

Earlier this year a group claiming to be IS hacking division released the names, addresses and photographs of military personnel in the US. Their message to supporters was to “kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking they are safe” see following link,

“Islamic State hacking division release personal details of US service members, urges supporters to kill on US soil”

Although no evidence has come to light so far linking Abdulazeez’s attack to IS, the timing is interesting as it coincides with chatter on social media to unleash terror on western countries now that Ramadan is over. IS media shows that both military and nuclear installations are considered targets.

ABC reports that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, (brother of George Bush) and has now called for a ban on carrying guns in military recruiting offices to be lifted.He stated,

‘it seems to me that if you have military bases or recruiting offices, these are symbols of American might, they’re targets. This is how you garner attention. You go to places where there’s vulnerability, and it’s a very powerful symbolic attack on our country.”

“If the Marines were armed, I think people would’ve known that, and if they had known it, maybe they wouldn’t have come in. Who knows. I just think it ought to be reviewed for sure.”

Arming those working in military recruiting offices is unlikely to prevent further attacks on the military, the list of leaked service personnel was widely circulated on social media… will the homes of all armed service personnel now be guarded? This would not be practical and 24 hour surveillance would be of huge cost to the country.

What the US should reflect on is the haste in which the government and military rushed to invade, occupy and bomb other countries and its use of drone strikes. The responsibility for the Chattanooga shootings is placed firmly on Abdulazeez however we should also be asking, what part has government actions played in the radicalization of American citizens. In that respect, US authorities must accept some responsibility too.

Mistaken identity led to wrong person labelled in connection with Chattanooga killings

To end on a note of caution. I was alerted to an unfortunate case of mistaken identity via Facebook. A post read,

“woke up to the news that my good friend Qari Muhammad Yousef has been shot dead after killing 4 US marines and had the courtesy to inform us of his death directly on Facebook himself.

If only more people took the initiative to update us of their own death on Facebook.” 

Mido Calipha Youssef was WRONGLY identified as the Chattanooga shooter by Al Anbar newspaper who featured his photo next to a story of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, the actual shooter. The following image was posted.


Mistaken identity, a name mix -up led to Mido Calipha Youssef being WRONGLY identified as the Chattanooga shooter.

Muslims have enough of a hard time as it is facing prejudice and expected to apologise for every killing going, in addition one poor man now has to explain that he is NOT connected in any way to the killings at military establishments in Tennessee. Imagine having to discuss that at a job interview!

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.


About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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