A lone shooter identified as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez unleashed a barrage of bullets at a strip mall military recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, minutes before opening fire on an another military site 7 miles away, killing four Marines in what officials called an act of “domestic terrorism.”
The gunman was fatally shot by a police officer outside a Navy-Marine training center.
While officials stressed they had not discovered any link between 24-year-old Abdulazeez and the Islamic State or other terrorist groups, Ed Reinhold, a special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville division, said the attack would be investigated as an act of terrorism.
The FBI identified the shooter as Abdulazeez of Hixson, Tennessee, though the spelling of his first name was in dispute, with federal authorities and records giving at least four variations. One official told The Associated Press that Abdulazeez was believed to have been born in Kuwait.
Another U.S. official told the AP there was no indication Abdulazeez was on the radar of federal law enforcement before the shootings. The official was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A sailor was seriously hurt in the attack, one of three people reported wounded.
“Lives have been lost [of] some faithful people who have been serving our country, and I think I join all Tennesseans in being both sickened and saddened by this,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.
The FBI took control of the investigation and dispatched “hundreds” of resources to the scene.
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center said it has seen no connection so far to any terrorist organization. But chatter about terrorism attacks within the U.S. increased earlier this month leading up to the Fourth of July holiday, when the Islamic State called on its followers to initiate attacks around the world during Ramadan, which ends Friday.
There were no specific threats targeting these military facilities, and no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet, a defense official said.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the attacks are a reminder “that there are people right here in America who are intent on striking from within.”
An internal congressional document shows that federal authorities have uncovered more U.S.-based terror plots or attacks in the first half of 2015 than in any year since terrorists drove planes into the New York City World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
President Obama, who was briefed by the FBI on the incidents, asked Americans to pray for the families of the four fallen Marines, calling their deaths “heartbreaking” and saying that he extended his “deepest sympathies to the American people.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the attack, saying that this type of violence should be denounced by Americans of all faiths.
“The American Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens in offering condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured and in rejecting anyone who would harm our nation’s safety and security,” Nihad Awad, the group’s national executive director, said in a statement.
The shooting began at about 10:45 a.m. local time, officials said, when police responded to about 25 to 30 shots at an armed forces recruitment center at a strip mall on Lee Highway, where the Marine and two others were wounded.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Dodge, leader of Army recruiting at the center, said he and his comrades dropped to the ground and barricaded themselves in a safe place. Sgt. Dodge estimated there were 30 to 50 shots fired. Doors and glass were damaged at the neighboring Air Force, Navy and Marine offices, he said.
Law enforcement officials told recruiters that the gunman stopped his car in front of the recruiting station, shot at the building and drove off, said Brian Lepley, a spokesman with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Police chased the shooter to a Navy Operational Support Center on Amnicola Highway about 7 miles away, where the four Marines were killed. The entire incident lasted about half an hour.
The names of the dead were not immediately released.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said his priority would be taking care of the families of those killed.
“While we expect our sailors and Marines to go into harm’s way, and they do so without hesitation, an attack at home, in our community, is insidious and unfathomable,” Mr. Mabus said in a statement.
Several local schools and hospitals went into lockdown because of the incidents. Mr. Reinhold said officials notified other military facilities in the area about the shootings.
“It is incomprehensible to see what happened and the way that individuals who proudly serve our country were treated,” said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. “[There were] two different locations this individual went to and, as a city, we will respond to this with every available resource that we have.”
Within hours of the bloodshed, law officers with guns drawn swarmed what was believed to be Abdulazeez’s house, and two females were led away in handcuffs.
A dozen law enforcement vehicles, including a bomb squad truck and an open-sided Army green truck carrying armed men, rolled into the Colonial Shores neighborhood of Hixson, and police closed off streets and turned away people trying to reach their homes.
Marilyn Hutcheson, who works at Binswanger Glass across the street, said she heard a barrage of gunfire around 11 a.m.
“I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many,” she said. “It was rapid-fire, like pow-pow-pow-pow-pow, so quickly. The next thing I knew, there were police cars coming from every direction.”
She ran inside, and she and other employees and a customer waited it out with the doors locked. The gunfire continued with occasional bursts for what she estimated was 20 minutes. Bomb squads, SWAT teams and other local, state and federal authorities rushed to the scene.
“If it was a grievance or terroristic-related, we just don’t know,” she said.
Thursday’s shooting was not the first attack on a recruiting center. Two soldiers were shot outside an Army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas, on June 1, 2009, by Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad. The two soldiers received Purple Hearts, one posthumously, earlier this month after Congress opened the award up to those who had been injured by terrorists on American soil.
⦁ Maggie Ybarra contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service dispatches.
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