Details Emerge On Chattanooga Shooting, But Big Question Persists: Why?

Jul 17, 2015
Originally published on July 17, 2015 6:39 pm
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Investigators are still piecing together clues to determine what motivated a 24-year-old Tennessee man to open fire on two military targets yesterday. Four Marines and the gunman were killed in the attack. Three other people were injured. Law enforcement officials say they haven't found any evidence to support the shooter was inspired by an extremist group, like the self-proclaimed Islamic State or al-Qaida. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story and is with us now. Dine, the FBI held a press conference this afternoon and provided some new details about the attacks. What more did you learn?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, I think the biggest takeaway was that investigators still aren't sure what motivated 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez. The FBI's special agent in charge in Tennessee, Ed Reinhold, said it was too early to start suggesting that this was an ISIS or al-Qaida-inspired plot.


ED REINHOLD: At this time, we have no indication that he was inspired by or directed by anyone other than himself.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Now, that's meaningful because, typically in these ISIS al-Qaida cases, those connections begin to reveal themselves pretty early in the process. And from the people close to the investigation that I'm talking to, that really isn't happening this time.

CORNISH: But investigators are still treating this as a terrorism case?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, but that still - that has more to do with the intensity with which that they're investigating it than presupposing why the attack happened. They have his computer and his cell phone, but officials tell us that Abdulazeez had a very limited online presence. Typically, ISIS-inspired attackers leave some sort of manifesto behind, a video or an online screed against the U.S. And they've tended to register their dissatisfaction on Facebook and Twitter, but that doesn't seem to have happened this time.

CORNISH: In terms of his background, what more are investigators learning about the shooter?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI has searched his home. Agents have talked to his family. And now they're focused on the guns he had. Officials revealed today that he had two long guns, or rifles, and one handgun with him during the attack. He wasn't wearing body armor, but instead, he had a load-bearing vest that was all full of ammunition. Officials said that some of the guns were purchased legally, but didn't provide a lot of detail on that. And I expect we'll hear more about that in the coming days.

CORNISH: So where are they focusing the investigation now?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the latest wrinkle is that it appears that Abdulazeez was in Jordan for six or seven months last year. He might've been visiting family - he's of Jordanian descent - or there might've been a terrorist connection. Both al-Qaida and ISIS have a presence in Jordan. Now, Jordanian intelligence is helping, but so far there's nothing to suggest that he had contact with extremists there. Law enforcement officials said that they're really trying to zero in on the past year of Abdulazeez' life. They don't know - they don't think he's been stewing for years and just decided to attack. They say something happened - he met somebody reasonably recently, or maybe there was some break that will be the key to understanding why this happened. They just haven't found that connection yet.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thank you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.