Jordan questions Chattanooga shooter’s relatives, arrests uncle
Amman - The man who killed four US Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before dying in a shoot-out with police had travelled to Qatar and possibly Saudi Arabia and Turkey during a seven-month visit to the Middle East in 2014, a relative and two hard-line Islamist officials said.
US investigators are searching for a motive in the July 16th killings carried out by Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, according to a Jordan-based Western diplomat.
“US law enforcement officials are trying to determine if the shooter contacted jihadists during his trip to Doha,” the diplomat said. He declined to provide other information or to be identified further, citing the sensitivity of his information.
However, two Islamist officials and a relative in Jordan — all three insisting on anonymity — said Abdulazeez may have also travelled to Turkey and Saudi Arabia in 2014. The three said Abdulazeez’s maternal uncle in Jordan was summoned for questioning on those trips and other information he may have on the shooter’s motive.
But lawyer Abed al-Kader Ahmad al-Khateeb said the uncle, Assad Ibrahim Assad Haj Ali, was detained a day after the attack. Khateeb said that his client, also a naturalised US citizen of Jordanian-Palestinian origin, was initially questioned and released.
“But intelligence agents came to his house the same night, searched it, confiscated his cell phone, desk computer and laptop and arrested him for further questioning on July 17th,” Khateeb told The Arab Weekly.
The lawyer said the suspect stayed with Haj Ali and worked in the uncle’s small shop selling cell phone handsets in the low-income Amman neighbourhood of Deraa Gharbi throughout his seven-month visit last year.
“He didn’t go on trips abroad neither to Qatar, nor elsewhere when he was in Jordan,” Khateeb said. He described Abdulazeez as an “average person, not a devout Muslim who had no beard when he was in Jordan, as his relatives say”.
However, one of the Islamists, whose group is banned in Jordan, said local authorities had “told the uncle that they are investigating the shooter’s possible trips to Saudi Arabia or Turkey, where he may have slipped into Syria or Iraq to meet with jihadists”.
He said the shooter had no affiliation with radical groups in Jordan.
Jordanian officials declined to provide details on their investigation, except to say that they have been approached by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for information on Abdulazeez.
Abdulazeez visited his maternal uncle in 2014, according to the relative. He said the shooter also visited Jordan and Kuwait in 2010.
“There was no indication that he was radicalised,” the relative said. He said he believed the shooter was “unhappy with his job in the United States and was feeling very depressed and anxious over his future”.
In a statement to the media, a representative for Abdulazeez’s family in the United States said the shooter was sent on the trip to visit family in Jordan to help him cope with crushing debt and suicidal thoughts as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
In the weeks leading up to the shooting, Abdulazeez was reportedly having trouble handling his 12- hour night shifts at his new job for a company that designs and makes wire and cable products. He began taking sleeping tablets, the representative said, and was abusing painkillers and preparing to file for bankruptcy.
A diary from 2013 seized by the FBI described Abdulazeez’s thoughts of self-harm and “becoming a martyr”, although a friend told CNN that Abdulazeez had described extremists such as the “Islamic State (ISIS)” as “doing wrong” and being “completely against Islam”.
The family representative reiterated that although he was troubled, Abdulazeez had shown no signs of becoming radicalised. The family admitted, however, that he was “susceptible to bad influences” and had been sent on his visit to Jordan to get him away from friends who they believed were corrupting him.
US court records, however, reveal a volatile family life in a 2009 request for divorce filed by his mother, which she later dropped. Abdulazeez was arrested April 20th of this year for driving under the influence of alcohol, an event that made him sink further into depression, according to friends talking to US-based newspapers.
Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait on September 5, 1990, according to Kuwait’s Interior Ministry, which said he was a Jordanian citizen. Jordanian security officials, however, said the shooter was not a citizen, but rather a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Nablus who carried a temporary Jordanian travel document. The officials said he was born to Mohammad Youssuf Saeed Haj Ali but that his father changed his name to Abdulazeez in 1990.
US law enforcement officials said the shooter was a naturalised US citizen.