Investigators were combing through the computer, cellphone and social media contacts of the gunman, identified as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, to determine whether he was in touch with any extremist groups in Jordan before or during this trip.

Share story

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Federal investigators on Friday began examining the background of the 24-year-old gunman who killed four Marines in an attack on two military sites here, going through his computer and cellphone and focusing on a seven-month trip he made last year to Jordan.

A senior intelligence official said that investigators, led by the FBI, were trying to determine whether the gunman in the shooting rampage here Thursday, identified as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, had been in touch with any extremist groups in Jordan before or during the trip.

Edward W. Reinhold, the agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville division, did not address specific trips abroad by Abdulazeez but said at a news conference Friday, “We are exploring all travel he has done, and we have asked our intelligence partners throughout the world to provide us with any information they may have as to travel and activities.”

Before his stay in Jordan last year, Abdulazeez, who made the trip on a U.S. passport, had traveled at least four other times to the country, said federal law enforcement officials, who were not authorized to speak about the investigation. He was in Jordan in the last weeks of 2005, in the summer of 2008, the summer of 2010 and the spring of 2013, officials said. Those stays ranged from two weeks to two months.

In 2013, he also spent some time in Canada, returning to the United States in May, these officials said. They offered no information about a reason for the trips.

“This attack raises several questions about whether he was directed by someone or whether there’s enough propaganda out there to motivate him to do this,” said the senior intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was still underway.

Federal agents took Abdulazeez’s computer and cellphone back to Washington to comb through them for evidence about who he had been in contact with and about what.

Officials often look at international travel in terrorism cases because training in terrorist camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan has been seen as a crucial step in developing a plot. But a federal official said there was no indication Abdulazeez’s trips were connected with the plot, and the attack in Tennessee would have required no specialized training, he said.

“It would be premature to speculate on exactly why the shooter did what he did,” Reinhold said. “However, we are conducting a thorough investigation to determine whether this person acted alone, was inspired or directed.”

Authorities in Jordan said Abdulazeez traveled there last year to visit a maternal uncle, and the tiny, arid country — though squeezed into a volatile region, bordering Syria, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia — is not considered a training ground for terrorism groups.

Jordan’s monarchy heads the Arab world’s most unflinchingly pro-American government and one of two that have standing peace treaties with Israel. Its security services are pervasive and their clampdowns on dissent played a role in keeping the country stable through the Arab Spring uprisings and the subsequent unrest that has rocked many Arab countries.

While Jordan has little internal militant activity, it is home to several prominent Qaida-linked ideologues, and parts of the country are bastions of ultraconservative Islam. Abu Musbab Al-Zarqawi, who led al-Qaida in Iraq before being killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006, hailed from the town of Zarqa, from which hundreds of young men have left more recently to join jihadist factions in Syria and Iraq.

Born in Kuwait in 1990, Abdulazeez became a U.S. citizen in 2003 through the naturalization of his mother, federal officials said. Because he was a minor at the time, he did not have to apply separately for citizenship. When they came to live in the United States, both his mother and father were citizens of Jordan “of Palestinian descent,” a law enforcement official said. His father is also a naturalized citizen.

Although counterterrorism officials had not been investigating Abdulazeez before Thursday’s shooting, federal officials familiar with the inquiry said that his father had been investigated years ago for giving money to an organization with possible ties to terrorists.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the elder Abdulazeez had been put on a watch list preventing him from flying. “I believe there was a preliminary investigation,” McCaul said, “but there was no derogatory information, and he was taken off the list.”

In fact, father and son were able to travel together to Jordan in recent years, a law enforcement official said.

A U.S. official said U.S. intelligence officials were contacting authorities in Kuwait and Jordan to see if they had any information about the gunman or whether he had been under surveillance or came up in any investigations while he was there.

The Defense Department said Friday that the general security level had not been raised at military installations around the country in the wake of the shooting but that individual station commanders might take added precautions. In May, the military command raised the terrorism precaution level at its domestic installations to “threat condition alpha,” the lowest of four steps above normal, because of the general possibility of attacks inspired by the group calling itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and it has remained there.

Except for those assigned to police and security work, or engaged in certain kinds of exercises, military personnel generally are not armed when at military facilities. Reserve centers of the kind attacked Thursday, which provide training and other services, are sometimes on bases, but others, like the one in Chattanooga, stand alone, sometimes in places that are fairly public.

In addition, there are thousands of military recruiting offices in shopping centers and office parks, each staffed by only a handful of people, and those are especially vulnerable, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a security expert who is senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corp.

“They’re supposed to be convenient; they’re supposed to be easily accessible,” Jenkins said. “They’re virtually no more protected than a shoe store in a shopping mall.”

“There have been continuing exhortations by both al-Qaida and ISIL over the years to attack American military personnel, so if you were determined that that was your mission, then the most readily available, accessible, unprotected target is going to be a recruiting office,” he said.

The gunman fired on an armed services recruiting center here, and then, pursued by Chattanooga police officers, raced to a naval reserve facility and opened fire there. It was at the second location, a fenced-in campus with a building and a tree-lined parking lot, where the Marines and the gunman died.

“All indications are that he was killed by fire from the Chattanooga police officers,” Reinhold said of Abdulazeez.

“He did have at least two long guns,” meaning rifles or shotguns, “and he did have one handgun that we’re aware of,” the agent said, but he declined to be more specific. He said the gunman did not have body armor but wore a vest with multiple ammunition magazines.

McCaul said he had been told that the gunman’s main weapon was an AK-47-style assault rifle.

Fred Fletcher, the Chattanooga police chief, said that when one of the first officers on the scene was shot in the ankle, the others there “put their hands on him, dragged him from the gunfire, and bravely returned fire.”

The separate rampages here were together the highest profile episode of violence at domestic military installations since April 2014, when three people were killed and more than a dozen wounded at Fort Hood, Texas. And the killings here came less than one month after another mass shooting, in which nine people were killed inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

After the shootings here Wednesday, the police in New York City ratcheted up security at military installations around the city. Officers with special weapons and training were deployed to those and other sensitive locations, said John J. Miller, the police department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

About a dozen uniformed police officers stood outside the famed armed services recruitment center in the middle of Times Square on Friday, several of them carrying semiautomatic rifles and wearing helmets, and some with police dogs on leashes. These were members of “Hercules” teams, which are dispatched around the city to exhibit a show of force, often near landmarks or in busy commuter areas like Grand Central Terminal.

They were an incongruous presence on the busy pedestrian plaza, where tourists rested at bright red public tables or pulled rolling suitcases along the pavement. While some tourists stopped to have their pictures taken with people dressed as Elsa and Olaf from the movie “Frozen,” a steady stream of them also posed for photos showing them next to the heavily armed police.

The only run-in Abdulazeez had with local law enforcement appears to have been an April 20 arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated, for which he posted a $2,000 bond, and was due to appear in Hamilton County court on July 30. The arrest record listed him as 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.

According to a police affidavit filed in the case, officers spotted him weaving through downtown Chattanooga after 2 a.m., in a gray 2001 Toyota Camry, and when they pulled over, they smelled alcohol and marijuana, and he failed a field sobriety test. They said his eyes were bloodshot, his speech was slurred, he was “unsteady on his feet,” and he had “irritated nostrils and a white powdery substance/residue” under his nose, which Abdulazeez claimed came from snorting crushed caffeine pills.

he 24-year-old gunman who killed four Marines in an attack on two military sites here traveled to Jordan last year for about seven months, a senior intelligence official said Friday, one of several trips to the country in recent years.

The official said that investigators were combing through the computer, cellphone and social media contacts of the gunman, identified as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, to determine whether he was in touch with any extremist groups in Jordan before or during this trip.

Before his long stay in Jordan last year, Abdulazeez, who became a U.S. citizen in 2003, had traveled at least four other times to the country, said federal law enforcement officials, who were not authorized to speak about the investigation. He was in Jordan in the last weeks of 2005, in the summer of 2008, the summer of 2010 and during the spring of 2013, officials said. Those stays ranged from two weeks to two months.

In 2013 he also spent some time in Canada, returning to the United States in May, these federal officials said. They offered no information about a reason for the trips.

Abdulazeez made those trips with his U.S. passport. Born in Kuwait in 1990, he became a citizen through the naturalization of his mother, federal officials said. Because he was a minor at the time, he did not have to apply separately for citizenship.

When they came to live in the United States, both his mother and father were citizens of Jordan “of Palestinian descent,” an official said. His father is also a naturalized citizen.

It was still too early, the senior intelligence official said, to determine whether Abdulazeez had been inspired or directed by Islamic extremists or any other terrorist organization.

“This attack raises several questions about whether he was directed by someone or whether there’s enough propaganda out there to motivate him to do this,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still underway. FBI officials said late Thursday night that thus far they did not have “anything that directly ties” the suspect to international terrorist organizations.

Intelligence officials were contacting authorities in Kuwait and Jordan, a U.S. official said, for any information about Abdulazeez, including whether his name had come up in any of their investigations.

On Friday, two of the four Marines killed in the attack were identified. Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, 40, from Springfield, Massachusetts, had been in the Marines for 18 years, according to his Facebook page. Lance Cpl. Squire Kimpton Paul Wells, 21, of Marietta, Georgia, known as Skip, had recently joined up, according to friends and family.

The Defense Department said it would release the names of the other victims later on Friday or Saturday. The wounded included a Marine Corps recruiter and a police officer, according to law enforcement officials.

Although counterterrorism officials had not been investigating Abdulazeez before Thursday’s shooting, federal officials familiar with the inquiry said that his father, who had lived in Jordan, had been investigated years ago for giving money to an organization with possible ties to terrorists. But the father was not on a watch list of people who might pose security threats, and he and his son were able to travel together to Jordan in recent years, a law enforcement official said.

The Defense Department said Friday that the general security level had not been raised at military installations around the country in the wake of the shooting but that individual station commanders might take added precautions. In May, the military command raised the terrorism precaution level at its domestic installations to “threat condition alpha,” the lowest of four steps above normal, because of the general possibility of attacks inspired by the group calling itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, and it has remained there.

Except for those assigned to police and security work, or engaged in certain kinds of exercises, military personnel generally are not armed when at military facilities. Reserve centers of the kind attacked Thursday, which provide training and other services, are sometimes located on bases, but others, like the one in Chattanooga, stand alone, sometimes in places that are fairly public.

In addition, there are thousands of military recruiting offices in shopping centers and office parks, each staffed by only a handful of people, and those are especially vulnerable, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a security expert who is senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corp.

“They’re supposed to be convenient; they’re supposed to be easily accessible,” Jenkins said. “They’re virtually no more protected than a shoe store in a shopping mall.”

“There have been continuing exhortations by both al-Qaida and ISIL over the years to attack American military personnel, so if you were determined that that was your mission, then the most readily available, accessible, unprotected target is going to be a recruiting office,” he said.

After the Chattanooga shootings, the police in New York City ratcheted up security at military installations around the city. Officers with special weapons and training were deployed to those and other sensitive locations, said John J. Miller, the police department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

“While we have no specific information about any plot against the city, until we learn more about the attack we have placed additional officers in key locations,” Miller said. “We have been in regular contact with Tennessee authorities, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the intelligence community.”

About a dozen uniformed police officers stood outside the famed armed services recruitment center in the middle of Times Square on Friday, several of them carrying semiautomatic rifles and wearing helmets, and some with police dogs on leashes. These were members of “Hercules” teams, which are dispatched around the city to exhibit a show of force, often near landmarks or in busy commuter areas like Grand Central Station.

They were an incongruous presence on the busy pedestrian plaza, where tourists rested at bright red public tables or pulled rolling suitcases along the pavement. While some tourists stopped to have their pictures taken with people dressed as Elsa and Olaf from the movie “Frozen,” a steady stream of them also posed for photos showing them next to the heavily armed police.

The gunman fired on an armed services recruiting center here Thursday morning and then raced to a naval reserve facility and opened fire there. It was at the second location that the Marines and the gunman died.

The separate rampages were together the highest profile episode of violence at domestic military installations since April 2014, when three people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded at Fort Hood, Texas. And the killings here came in yet another mass shooting, less than one month after nine people were killed inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The only run-in Abdulazeez had with local law enforcement appears to have been an April 20 arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated, for which he posted a $2,000 bond, and was due to appear in Hamilton County court on July 30. The arrest record listed him as 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.

According to a police affidavit filed in the case, officers spotted him weaving through downtown Chattanooga after 2 a.m., in a gray 2001 Toyota Camry, and when they pulled over, they smelled alcohol and marijuana, and he failed a field sobriety test. They said his eyes were bloodshot, his speech was slurred, he was “unsteady on his feet,” and he had “irritated nostrils and a white powdery substance/residue” under his nose, which Abdulazeez claimed came from snorting crushed caffeine pills.