We have previously discussed the disconnect in some individuals, particularly ISIS recruits, who live relatively normal lives in the West only to become suddenly radicalized and violent as Islamic extremists. Chattanooga gunman Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez could be such a case, though police are still trying to confirm the motivation for the attacks. The attack has been labeled “domestic terrorism.” Abdulazeez, 24, murdered four Marines and wounded a police officer on Thursday in shootings at two military recruiting and training centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee. What is now known is that he posted a couple posts shortly before the attack discussing how Muslims should act in this short life and how they had to resist the corrupting influence of life around them in proving their faith.
Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait and comes from a deeply religious Muslim family. However, he appeared well-integrated into society in high school and, judging from his DUI arrest, engaged in non-Muslim practices. Notably, his arrest of DUI occurred recently on April 21, 2015. He was not on any watch list though his father was investigated once for suspicious international ties.
Abdulazeez was in many respects a successful member of our society. He attended Red Bank High School in Tennessee and is described by a former coach as “an All American kid.” While he would stop practicing in sports to pray each day, he also was known to like beer and socialize. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, his high school yearbook quote contained a joke that now has a more menacing meaning: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
He graduated from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga with a degree in electrical engineering. He worked from April 2009 to April 2010 as an intern with the Tennessee Valley Authority and had internships at Mohawk Industries and Global Trade Express.
While his fellow students describe his as deeply religious, they describe him as nice and funny in relations with other people. In high school, he was a wrestler and later trained as a mixed martial arts fighter. One such fight was videotaped.
He has been described as a “Jordanian citizen” who seemed to have a change in behavior after returning from a trip to the Middle East two years ago. There may have been multiple recent trips. We have seen other cases where relatively short exposure to radical Islamic centers or figures has pushed some young Muslims to extremism. He reportedly had become more devout in the last couple months. In this case, a relatively short period is being cited for the change of a person once described as the “All American kid” to a murderous fanatic.
Particular attention is likely to be given to two recent blog posts from July 13, 2015.
The first is entitled “A Prison Called Dunya” where he talks about how short life is and how it is “nothing more than a test of our faith and patience”:
I would imagine that any sane person would devote their time to mastering the information on the study guide and stay patient with their studies, only giving time for the other things around to keep themselves focused on passing the exam. They would do this because they know and have been told that they will be rewarded with pleasures that they have never seen.
. . .
It was designed to separate the inhabitants of Paradise from the inhabitants of Hellfire, and to rank amongst them the best of the best and worst of the worst. Don’t let the society we live in deviate you from the task at hand. Take your study guide, the Quran and Sunnah, with strength and faith, and be firm as you live your short life in this prison called Dunya. Allah (SWT) says live for this life and the hereafter according to their length. Rasulullah says the life on this world compared to the hereafter is like a drop compared to an ocean.
Brothers and sisters don’t be fooled by your desires, this life is short and bitter and the opportunity to submit to allah may pass you by. Take his word as your light and code and do not let other prisoners, whether they are so called “Scholars” or even your family members, divert you from the truth. If you make the intention to follow allahs way 100 % and put your desires to the side, allah will guide you to what is right.
The second post was entitled “Understanding Islam: The Story of the Three Blind Men” and he discussed how may of leading Islamic leaders were generals and political leaders who sought to convert the world as the Prophet’s Sahaba, or companions:
We often talk about the Sahaba (RA) and their Ibada. We talk about their worshiping at night, making thikr, reading quran, fasting, sala. But did you ever notice that in one certain period towards the end of the lives of the Sahaba (RA), almost every one of the Sahaba (RA) was a political leader or an army general? Every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah.
So this picture that you have in your mind that the Sahaba (RA) were people being like priests living in monasteries is not true. All of them towards the end of the lives were either a mayor of a town, governor of a state, or leader of an army at the frontlines. The Sahaba (RA) were very involved in establishing Islam in the world. Their mission was to establish Islam and live it. …
We ask Allah to make us follow their path. To give us a complete understanding of the message of Islam, and the strength the live by this knowledge, and to know what role we need to play to establish Islam in the world.
What is currently known presents a chilling picture of a young man who appeared to have succeeded in society in going to college and pursuing his athletic and religious interests within a pluralistic environment. I expect many will be exploring what triggered this violent outburst with a particular interest in the trip back to the Middle East as well as the influences that he found in the United States. We have seen other cases of successful or seemingly well-adjusted individuals who turned into Islamic extremists and murderers. There remains a belief that exposure to the freedoms of the West is the greatest counter to extremism and for most it is. However, we have seen cases where exposure to Islamic extremism can also overwhelm some individuals and push them to violence.
Abdulazeez’s at a minimum show someone who appears torn between or at least a participant in two cultures. In the days to come, we will hopefully learn more about what specifically triggered this murderous rampage.
Lest we focus on Abdulazeez and his twisted view of morality, below are the Marines that he murdered in cold blood in Tennessee. They are Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan of Springfield, Mass.; Lance Cpl. Skip ‘Squire’ Wells, of Marietta, Ga.; Sgt. Carson Holmquist, of Grantsburg, Wisc.; and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, of Chattanooga: