Nation

Chattanooga gunman wrote of suicide and martyrdom

From left, Christy Tucker, Morgan Mason, and Lauren Lindsey visited a Lee Highway memorial for the five shooting victims in Chattanooga on Monday.
Dan Henry/Associated Press
From left, Christy Tucker, Morgan Mason, and Lauren Lindsey visited a Lee Highway memorial for the five shooting victims in Chattanooga on Monday.

NEW YORK — Long before he killed five servicemen last week in Chattanooga, Tenn., the gunman wrote about suicidal thoughts and “becoming a martyr,” according to a senior US intelligence official.

The writings have provided investigators with their clearest picture yet of the man, Mohammod Abdulazeez — a deeply troubled person who used drugs and faced an imminent appearance in criminal court on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

The FBI, leading the investigation into the shooting, has obtained and is poring over the writings, which were first reported by ABC News.

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A family spokesman characterized the writings, which are at least a year old, as a loose assemblage of Abdulazeez’s thoughts, some of which he described as “gibberish” and some clearly reflecting someone who was very depressed.

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As far back as 2013, Abdulazeez wrote about suicide and martyrdom, said the intelligence official, who has been briefed on the writings and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the investigation. “It’s probably the most we have got so far on his state of mind,” the official said. “There are some pretty radicalized thoughts.”

Still, the official said, the writings do not describe planning for any specific attack, leaving the authorities struggling to piece together a motive for Abdulazeez, 24, to mount an assault on two military sites last Thursday.

The authorities say there is a strong likelihood that Abdulazeez received some kind of assistance in planning the attack, perhaps financial aid in obtaining the weapons and ammunition he used, and that is another area being investigated, the intelligence official said. But it remains unclear whether anyone who helped Abdulazeez was aware of what he intended to do, or when.

“All that is what we’re looking at now,” the official said.

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The FBI, working with Jordanian officials, is examining what impact a seven-month trip to that country last year might have had on Abdulazeez, especially given his mental state.

Investigators want to know whom he met there and whether someone he came into contact with might have inspired the attacks or whether daily exposure to news and conversation about the war in neighboring Syria somehow set in motion his deadly planning.

Abdulazeez’s parents are from Jordan, and he is known to have visited relatives there more than once. He was born in Kuwait and had lived in Tennessee most of his life. He was a naturalized citizen.

Until last Thursday’s shooting, the gunman was unknown to antiterrorism agencies, and investigators did not have a head start in determining his motive. As a result, they have had to assemble information on his background, contacts, computer use, and travels from scratch.

In Chattanooga, he mostly blended into everyday life as a high school wrestler who graduated from college with an engineering degree and regularly attended a local mosque.

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But he also had a more turbulent side, including his arrest on a charge of driving under the influence after returning from Jordan. He was set to face a judge later this month.

Friends and family saw nothing unusual in Abdulazeez’s behavior in the days and months leading up to the shooting. He told two longtime friends he was excited about his new job at a company that designs and makes wire and cable products.

Abdulazeez died in a shootout with police at a Marine-Navy facility where the servicemen were killed. Authorities said he was driving a rented silver Mustang convertible, wore a vest with extra ammunition, and wielded at least two long guns — either rifles or shotguns — and a handgun.

On Monday, yellow police tape still blocked access to the military site and law enforcement vehicles were parked nearby with lights flashing.

About 7 miles away, in a small strip shopping center, hundreds of people gathered Monday outside the military recruiting office where the rampage began. Many carried American flags and some held Confederate battle flags.

The windows of the storefront office, several of which were pocked with bullet holes, have since been covered with plywood.