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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Killer of US marines used three guns

Police officers enter the Armed Forces Career Centre through a bullet-riddled door after a gunman opened fire on the building. (AP)
Police officers enter the Armed Forces Career Centre through a bullet-riddled door after a gunman opened fire on the building. (AP)
A man identified as suspected Chattanooga gunman Muhammad Youssduf Adbulazeer is pictured after being detained for a driving offence in April (Hamilton County Sheriffs Office/AP)

The gunman who opened fire on two military facilities in Chattanooga and killed four US marines had at least two long guns and one handgun, the FBI said.

Some of the gun purchases were legal and some were not, FBI agent Ed Reinhold said. He said investigators were also looking at all of the overseas travel of 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who was killed by police.

The gunman opened fire at a Marine-Navy reserve facility. The FBI, which is leading the investigation into the attacks, said he was wearing a load-bearing vest that allowed him to move about while carrying additional ammunition.

The US attorney in eastern Tennessee said the attacks were being treated as a terrorism investigation.

Bill Killian said that investigators will "let the facts and the evidence lead us where it may."

A relative of Abdulazeez said he has family in the West Bank and that he visited Jordan last year.

The relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person feared repercussions, said he was a "nice, educated guy." Abdulazeez met the relative for the first time during his visit to Jordan last year, and the two spoke for about an hour. During that time, the relative saw no hints of violence.

The relative said his parents are both from the West Bank. The relative said the family are mainstream Muslims, not fundamentalists. The person said "they fast, they pray and that is it".

Investigators are trying to understand why the Kuwait-born man opened fire on the US military sites and raised the spectre of terrorism on US soil.

Abdulazeez did not appear to have been on the radar of federal authorities before the bloodshed. But now counterterrorism investigators are taking a deep look at his online activities and searching for clues to his political views.

Residents in the quiet neighbourhood in Hixson, Tennessee, where Abdulazeez lived in a two-story home said they would see him walking along the wide streets or doing yard work. One neighbour recalled Abdulazeez giving him a ride home when he became stranded in a snowstorm.

"It's kind of a general consensus from people that interacted with him that he was just your average citizen there in the neighbourhood. There was no reason to suspect anything otherwise," said Ken Smith, a city council official.

Abdulazeez graduated from Red Bank High School in Chattanooga, where he was on the wrestling team.

He got an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2012 and worked as an intern a few years ago at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned utility that operates power plants and dams across the South. For the last three months, he had been working at Superior Essex, which designs and makes wire and cable products.

In April, he was arrested on a drink driving charge, and a mugshot showed him with a bushy beard.

Karen Jones, who lived next to the family for 14 years, said she was somewhat surprised last weekend by his appearance when she saw him walking with another man in woods behind the house, where he liked to shoot pellet guns at a red target suspended in a tree.

"He had this big beard, which was not how he used to be," Ms Jones said. She said he was typically clean-shaven.

The women of the family always wore head coverings in accordance with their Muslim faith, Ms Jones said, and the father works for the city of Chattanooga. Two women led away from the home after the shootings were also in headscarves.

For months, US counterterrorism authorities have been warning of the danger of attacks by individuals inspired but not necessarily directed by the Islamic State group. Officials have said they have disrupted several such lone-wolf plots.

A federal law enforcement official said authorities were searching Abdulazeez's computer but had not found an extensive online presence and had not uncovered any evidence he was directly influenced by the Islamic State.

The gunman sprayed dozens of bullets at a military recruiting centre in Chattanooga, then drove to a Navy-Marine training centre a few miles away and shot at the installation. The bullets smashed through windows and sent service members scrambling for cover.

In addition to the Marines killed, three people were wounded, including a sailor who was seriously hurt.

The dead were identified by the Marines as Gunnery Sgt Thomas J. Sullivan of Hampden, Massachusetts; Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, North Carolina; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist of Polk, Wisconsin; and Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells of Cobb County, Georgia. Sullivan, Wyatt and Holmquist had served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

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