The death of Navy petty officer Randall Smith over the weekend brought the number of American military servicemen murdered last Thursday in Chattanooga, Tennessee to five. All decent Americans ache for the families of those killed at a military recruitment center and Navy training center.
The five were men — the oldest was 40 and the youngest, 21 — who put their lives on the line by joining the armed forces but who likely never imagined that their lives would end in places they considered, and should have been able to consider, safe. Our condolences go out to the family and friends of the murdered; and our wishes for a full and speedy recovery to the two other people who were shot by the gunman.
The suspected shooter, who was killed during the mayhem by police, is 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez.
While no official finding has been announced, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian told reporters that the investigation is being treated as an “act of domestic terrorism.”
That’s a good working hypothesis. Abdulazeez, the son of Palestinians, was described by friends as a “deeply religious” Muslim, and he posted comments on a blog that extolled Islam and jihad. And he sent a text message to a friend hours before his rampage, quoting a Koranic verse about enmity. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he was born in Kuwait and also held Jordanian citizenship. He traveled to Jordan in 2014, a trip that some have contended “changed” him.
The timing of the Chattanooga shooting on the final night of Ramadan raises another flag. ISIS called for its supporters to unleash “a month of disaster” during the Islamic holy month.
Abdulazeez allegedly drove up to the recruitment center on Thursday morning and opened fire from his car. He then drove about seven miles to the Navy Operational Support Center, where he shot anyone he saw before being killed.
If it turns out that Abdulazeez was motivated by his religious beliefs, Thursday’s shooting will not have been the first jihadist attack on a U.S. military recruitment office.
On June 1, 2009, Carlos Bledsoe, a convert to Islam, shot and killed 23-year-old Pvt. William Long and wounded 18-year-old Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula in an attack on an Army recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Then, that same year, there was the Fort Hood, Texas shooting, where Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 32 others to express his displeasure at the U.S.’s killing of Muslims in foreign conflicts.
Earlier this year, an alleged plot by two cousins inspired by ISIS to attack a military base was foiled in Illinois.
Military facilities and personnel are a common target in jihadist plots to conduct violence within the United States. Nearly a third of the 119 Americans accused of plotting an attack inside the United States since 9/11 were alleged to have plotted to attack U.S. military targets, according to data collected by the public policy institute New America.
Last week’s massacre was certainly another wake-up call for increased security at domestic military sites and more effective gun control. A number of governors indeed moved quickly to protect National Guard personnel at military bases, and in some cases at recruiting offices. And federal officials are studying other options for increasing security at national armed forces recruitment centers.
But moves to heighten security at such facilities, while certainly called for, cannot assure the safety of those who work at, or visit, them. The military has hundreds of recruitment centers spread out across the U.S., and Pentagon officials said it would be costly and impractical to place armed guards in each one.
What’s more, the Navy training center where Abdulazeez wrought his havoc was indeed well-protected by two concrete barriers and a chain-link gate that required a pass code or someone inside to open the gate. The killer allegedly rammed the gate, got out of the car and then fired dozens of rounds at those in the facility. His weapons, reportedly, included both legally and illegally acquired firearms.
But efforts to boost security at military-related sites and to make it harder for unstable or extremist people to obtain guns are certainly in order. So are efforts to track potential jihadists.
Constitutional concerns will always argue for respecting the privacy of individuals, especially American citizens. But in times of war — and, in the end, even Islamist “lone wolves” are part of what can only be called a war effort — when innocent lives are at stake, enhanced scrutiny of people who fit the pattern of those others who have been “radicalized,” to use the governmentally popular term, is necessary.
In his high school yearbook, Abdulazeez included, as his quote: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
Names should not trigger suspicions. But if only Abdulazeez’s postings and overseas trips had in fact raised alerts… His appalling actions should serve to ensure that the actions of future would-be jihadis will raise alerts of their own.