Three days before he set out in a silver Mustang convertible and murdered four Marines, 24-year-old Muhammad Youssuf Abdulazeez all but announced his intentions in a pair of blog posts.
One, headlined “Understanding Islam: The Story of the Three Blind Men,” declared that the original disciples of the prophet were not “like priests living in monasteries.”
“Every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah,” Abdulazeez wrote as myabdulazeez.
The second post was headlined “A Prison Called Dunya,” that being a term for the material world.
Abdulazeez’s particular patch of Dunya was a suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where his family had emigrated from Kuwait. He had been on the wrestling team at local Red Bank High School, and he had appeared with his buddies in a YouTube video, diving off a cliff into a nearby lake. He can be seen in another video competing in mixed martial arts, but he had not been a champion.
He had graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee, and his family had thrown a big party with a cake that read “Congratulations Mohammad Class of 2012” and “The Tassel Is Worth the Hassle.” He had posed for a picture in a cap and gown, clean shaven and smiling with potential, the American flag behind him.
But nearly three years later, he still had a résumé out and apparently had yet to land a promising job. One of his sisters had gotten married, but he was still single.
And on April 21 he had been arrested for driving under the influence, seemingly his first brush with the law. The arresting officers reported smelling marijuana and saw white residue on his face. He insisted he had only been snorting caffeine tablets. He refused a blood test, and a sample was obtained by power of a search warrant.
Abdulazeez may have taken it as a warning of what can happen if you stray from the stricter tenets of Islam.
In a family photo taken in May with his parents and his four sisters, he still managed to look happy enough. But his life outside such lighthearted moments seems to have grown sodden with disappointment. He consoled himself in the second blog post by saying ambition was pointless anyway.
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children—like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris,” he wrote.
He concluded, “What is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.”
His mother would likely find the talk of the wilted plant particularly distressing. She had posted as her Facebook profile picture a photo of some beautiful flowers that had been taken back at the time of his college graduation. The accompanying comment reported that they had been planted for her by her wonderful son.
Mama’s only boy was now declaring in his own post that none of it meant anything. He called on his fellow believers not to be led astray by tender sentiments such as their loved one might express. Anyone who tried to dissuade you from jihad was just another inmate in Dunya.
“Brothers and sisters don’t be fooled by your desires, this life is short and bitter and the opportunity to submit to allah may pass you by. Take his word as your light and code and do not let other prisoners, whether they are so called ‘Scholars’ or even your family members, divert you from the truth. If you make the intention to follow allahs way 100 % and put your desires to the side, allah will guide you to what is right.”
His idea of what was right was to climb into that silver Mustang convertible and drive off under an influence of a whole other kind, one beyond all reasoning or humanity.
He brought along enough weaponry to fire what one witness described as “more bullets than you can count.” He shot up one recruiting center and then another, killing four Marines and wounding a police officer.
His second encounter with the law was as a multiple murderer, and it ended with his death. He left behind four grieving families, five if you count his own.
And he betrayed the many true and therefore decent Muslims who are quick to renounce killing in the name of Allah. He only strengthened the prejudice to which he made a half-joking reference on his high school yearbook page when he quoted a social commentator known as HijabMan:
“My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
By Thursday evening, his mother had taken down the Facebook page with that profile photo of the flowers her son had planted.
“They were so beautiful!” she had written in her post. “And bless my son Mohammad Abdulazeez for planting them all!”
Her son’s blog posts were being read by a senior counterterrorism official who reported being sick upon seeing them.
All the signals were there.
If only somebody had seen them.
CORRECTION: 7/17/15, 12:44 AM: This article has been updated to clarify the meaning of the word “Dunya.”