FBI: Officers under 'tremendous amount of gunfire' in Tenn. shootings

By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated July 17, 2015 at 9:14 PM
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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., July 17 (UPI) -- The Chattanooga, Tenn., police officers who confronted a man who shot and killed four Marines at a U.S. Naval Reserve center "were under a tremendous amount of gunfire" during the incident, the FBI said.

FBI special agent in charge Ed Reinhold said Mohammad Yousseuf Abdulazeez, 24, had two long guns -- rifles and/or shotguns -- and a handgun, and was wearing a vest containing magazines of extra ammunition.

"It is apparent by looking at the crime scene ... that these officers were under a tremendous amount of gunfire from this individual," Reinhold said Friday during a news conference, "and yet they continued to move forward against this target and engage him and eliminate that threat, saving numerous lives throughout this community."

Abdulazeez allegedly opened fire first at a strip mall housing a number of military recruitment offices. He then drove -- in a rented convertible -- to the second location, the Naval Reserve, where he drove through a gate.

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said officers from the department chased Abdulazeez from the first to the second location and engaged him shortly after he arrived at the Naval center.

"That suspect soon made his intent -- his cowardly homicidal intent -- clear," Fletcher told reporters. "Officers of the Chattanooga Police Department did not hesitate. They engaged ... that gunman immediately, aggressively with the sole intent that he harm as few community members as possible.

"Yesterday was a breathtaking example of that everyday courage, that everyday bravery that can all too often be taken for granted."

During the firefight, one Chattanooga police officer was injured. His medical condition was not revealed.

It's not clear when or where Abdulazeez opened fire on the four U.S. Marines who were killed at the Naval Reserve location. Abdulazeez also died in the rampage.

FBI officials said nothing in their investigation indicates "anything that directly ties" Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen, to any terrorist organization.

His father was on a terrorist watch list several years ago, a law enforcement official told The New York Times, and was questioned while on a trip outside the United States, but was removed from the list.

The FBI said they are investigating the shootings as a terrorism case, though its classification could change as they discover more information. Agents are attempting to reconstruct Abdulazeez's recent movements and piece together a possible motive.

"At this time, we have no indication he was inspired by or directed by anyone other than himself," Reinhold said Friday.

His acquisition of several firearms and postings online about the meaning of Islam are coming under new examination, the Washington Post reported Friday.

"Some of the weapons were purchased legally and some of them may not have been," he said.

Reinhold said he would not confirm statements made earlier in the day by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, who said he believes Abdulazeez was motivated by the Islamic State and called the incident a "lone wolf"-style attack.

"That is a possibility we will explore just like any other possibility," Reinhold said.

FBI technicians are examining devices from Abdulazeez, including a cellphone and computer, the Post report said.

Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait to Jordanian parents, who moved to the United States during the first Gulf War. His friends and teachers described him as "all-American," witty and moderately religious, despite his online remarks about Islam.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said Abdulazeez spent seven months in Jordan last year and remained abroad for several months. However, his travels at the time did not raise any suspicion among U.S. officials.

Meanwhile, the identities of all four Marines killed were released Friday as Skip Wells, 21, Thomas Sullivan, 40, David Wyatt, and Carson Holmquist. Wells became a Marine in 2014 and had earned a National Defense Service Medal. Sullivan was a Purple Heart recipient with two tours of duty in Iraq. Wyatt served in Afghanistan and Iraq and had two small children. Holmquist was also a father and served twice in Afghanistan.

Doug G. Ware contributed to this report

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