July 21, News and Record, Greensboro, N.C., on unexplained attack on military offices in Chattanooga:
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait but came to the United States with his family in the wake of war.
The United States led a multinational coalition that liberated Kuwait from the clutches of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Abdulazeez became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He attended public schools, made friends and participated in athletics. He studied engineering at a state university. He had a good job with a technology company.
He’d been given a lot by this country. So, what reason did the 24-year-old man have last week to open fire on military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four Marines and a sailor, wounding two other men and losing his own life?
The explanation offered by a spokesman for his family, supported by Abdulazeez’s diary, opens a window into a troubled life. He experienced depression, abused drugs and alcohol, was in debt, had difficulty adjusting to a night shift. Those things may be true, but they hardly set him apart from many others. They’re not answers.
Other pieces of the puzzle hint at different possibilities. Despite his birth in Kuwait, he held Jordanian citizenship and may have had Palestinian heritage. He traveled to the Middle East a number of times. He was a practicing Muslim and wrote at least once about jihad.
Those items still don’t add up conclusively to much of anything, let alone the makings of a terrorist. There is no evidence to this point that he was directed or inspired by any terrorist group.
Yet his actions resemble a “lone wolf” terrorist attack. The Islamic State, sophisticated in its recruiting and communications, calls on Muslims living in the United States to strike blows against their enemies — potentially all Americans. Men and women in the U.S. armed forces may be preferred targets, symbolizing the military power of the United States.
This puts us all on notice, if we weren’t already. We continue to be at war. Most of our fighting is carried out overseas by drones or special forces, or by proxies. But we can expect the Islamic State and other terrorist groups to try to hit back at Americans on our soil. Sometimes, they will succeed.
Spectacular attacks like 9/11 aren’t likely anymore. Individual murders are easier to pull off. Defending the country isn’t only a matter of sealing our borders or watching ports and airports if longtime residents, even American citizens and sometimes even native-born Americans, can be radicalized and recruited by terrorists to do their bidding.
Our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies must be vigilant. So should ordinary Americans, family members, friends and religious leaders. If they see suspicious behavior or hear troubling talk, they should report it. We don’t want to become a nation of spies, but reasonable caution might prevent an act of violence that otherwise would take everyone by surprise.
When a young man with mental health concerns acquires firearms — whether it’s a Dylann Roof or Muhammad Abdulazeez — it should raise concerns.
Blocking immigration by Muslims, as North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham suggested last week, would be impractical and unfair. This country doesn’t discriminate by religion or blame millions for the actions of a few.
Religion or ideology may have nothing to do with Abdulazeez’s actions, anyway. And there’s not a common motive for domestic terrorism. Twenty years ago, an anti-government radical named Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in a bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.
Tighter security has been ordered at military offices in the wake of last week’s attacks. Military personnel may be encouraged to carry weapons. Better precautions are necessary.
Still, it’s not possible to prevent all threats. Nor is it necessary to surrender to fear and suspicion.