Wednesday 28 September 2016

Chattanooga gunman 'was not the son we knew' - family

Published 19/07/2015 | 05:52

Daly Simmons, 26, prays by a makeshift memorial outside the Armed Forces Career Centre (AP)
Daly Simmons, 26, prays by a makeshift memorial outside the Armed Forces Career Centre (AP)

The family of the man said to have murdered four US Marines and a sailor in Tennessee have offered sympathy, condolences and prayers to the victims' relatives.

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Authorities say Kuwait-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, unleashed a barrage of fire at a recruiting centre in Chattanooga on Thursday, then drove several miles away to a US Navy and Marine reserve centre, where he shot dead the Marines, and wounded the sailor who later died. Abdulazeez was shot dead by police.

In a statement, the family of Abdulazeez said: "There are no words to describe our shock, horror, and grief. The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved.

"For many years, our son suffered from depression. It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence."

The family added that they were co-operating with the investigation.

"We understand there are many legitimate questions that need to be answered," the statement said. "Having said this, now is the time to reflect on the victims and their families, and we feel it would be inappropriate to say anything more other than that we are truly sorry for their loss."

The statement came hours after the deadly toll from the attacks rose to five when the sailor died of his wounds.

In Chattanooga, a city that prides itself on strong ties between people of different faiths, some Muslims feared the community's perception of them had changed after the shooting rampage.

Mohsin Ali, a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said he hoped the local community did not dissolve into turmoil the way others had in the region over the building of mosques and other matters.

"We, our kids, feel 100% American and Chattanoogan," said Pakistani-born Mr Ali, a child psychiatrist. "Now they are wondering if that is how people still look at them."

Valencia Brewer, the wife of a Baptist minister, said: "I think the way you have to look at it is this was an individual person. You can't point at all Muslims because of this."

Mr Ali and Mrs Brewer were among more than 1,000 people who attended a memorial service at a Baptist church for the victims. Mr Ali, one of the speakers, railed against Abdulazeez as a "murderer" who committed a "cowardly and cruel" act.

"He shot our Marines and our police officers, shattered the peace of our city, frightened our children," he said. "He destroyed the lives of his whole family. He did his best to spread hatred and division. Disgraceful. And we will not let that endure."

Mr Ali said immigrants such as himself owed a debt of gratitude to America and the armed forces that protected it, because they often know first hand what it means to live in countries without personal freedoms or the rule of law.

Near the end of the service, at Mr Ali's urging, dozens of Muslims received a standing ovation as they stood in support of their city and in allegiance to their nation.

It was a remarkable show of togetherness in a region where relations have sometimes been tense since the terror attacks of September 11 2001.

As FBI agents served a warrant on the Abdulazeez home, two women wearing Islamic head coverings were seen being led away in handcuffs. But FBI agent Jason Pack said no arrests had been made in the case.

Authorities are looking into the shooting as a terrorism investigation and whether Abdulazeez was inspired or directed by any terrorist organization. They still do not know what motived him.

The president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga said Abdulazeez's father told him he felt blindsided and did not see any recent changes in his son.

"He told me that he had never seen it coming, and did not see any signs from his son that he would be that way and do something like that," Bassam Issa said.

Meanwhile, governors in at least a half a dozen states ordered National Guardsmen to be armed, and Florida governor Rick Scott moved his state's guard recruiters from shopfronts in urban areas to armouries.

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