UPDATE: A report today (July 20th) noted that Abdulazeez suffered from serious depression and other mental health issues. He also had substance abuse issues. One of the main reasons the family sent him relatives in Jordan in order to get him away from a circle of friends who abetted his drug abuse.
In addition to the possible physical abuse of his father towards him and his mother, these other issues must be factored into his actions as well.
Reuters is reporting that the suspected perpetrator of the Chattanooga terror attack which killed five U.S. military personnel may’ve been motivated in part by anger at Israel’s war against Gaza. Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, age 24, was born in Kuwait to a family of Palestinian origin. Though nothing in his upbringing or his life in America appears to have led him to radicalization, officials are exploring trips he took to Jordan and Kuwait in the past few years, which may’ve played some role in the attacks. Friends noted:
“That trip was eye-opening for him. He learned a lot about the traditions and culture of the Middle East,” said the close friend…
Abdulazeez was upset about the 2014 Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza and the civil war in Syria, he said. “He felt Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia were not doing enough to help, and that they were heavily influenced by the United States.”
Further, he sent the same friend a Koranic verse in a text message shortly before the rampage:
“Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him.”
As yet, there is no indication that he acted out of any involvement with an Islamist group like ISIS or al Qaeda. He seems to fit the profile of the “lone wolf” acting out of personal motivations perhaps inspired by news reports of U.S. and Israeli attacks on Palestinians and the Arab world in general.
If these reports are borne out by subsequent developments, it would mean that this attack follows a similar pattern of recent attacks by Palestinians against Israelis in East Jerusalem. In several, they rammed cars into Israeli civilians at or near light rail stations. In another, a gunman attacked a synagogue and killed worshippers. They all have one thing in common–they appeared to be relatively unplanned and unsophisticated: a man turning a car into a lethal weapon. This is not the mark of ISIS or al Qaeda.
In the case of the Tennessee shootings, the attacker used more planning, as befits someone who’d just earned a degree in electrical engineering and who’d been taught to shoot by his father from an early age. He secured guns both legally and illegally, made quite easy by America’s lax gun laws. In his first attack, he wasn’t able to get close enough to the target to do anything more than spray it with errant gunfire. In the second, a different security configuration allowed his closer access and he took a deadly toll.
In a 2009 attack, another Arab-American of Palestinian origin, Nidal Hassan, attacked a military target out of rage against America’s role in killing Muslims in the Middle East. He had turned for guidance to another American-Muslim who took on a leadership role Yemen’s affiliate of al Qaeda, Anwar al Awlaki.
More recently, two Muslims assaulted Pam Geller’s Texas exhibition of cartoons meant to offend Muslim religious sensibilities. In a gun battle with a massive security presence required to protect her, they were killed.
There are two ways to look at such attacks: we can adopt the Anders Breivik-Pam Geller posture that Islam is by nature at war with western values and must be fought at all costs; or we can consider ways in which Israel and U.S. counter-terror policy have inspired hot-headed responses by attackers like Abdulazeez, Hassan and others. That is not to say that terror attacks have any justification. But when you unleash the full measure of firepower against an entire religion (or so many Muslims believe) it stands to reason that some adherents will seek vengeance.
Israel killed 2,300 Gazans, 70% of them civilians, last summer. The U.S. has killed 3,000 Muslims by drone strikes in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Hundreds of these dead were civilians as well. These are sloppy, imprecise policies which do not achieve any useful result. Instead of weakening Islamist resolve, they strengthen it. Instead of subduing the enemy, the strengthen it.
As I’ve noted here before, Malcolm X said, after the Kennedy assassination, that it represented “the chickens coming home to roost.” White America was appalled by the brazenness of his claim. But he was, of course, right. More simply, if you kill, you stand to be killed. Especially if you kill the wrong people or people who are innocent. It is long past time that we examine these counter-terror policies and replace them with ones that constructively engage with the region.
Unless we do this there will be many more such attacks. They will be horrible. They will take many lives. They will be senseless. But so are our own policies to which they come in response.