His family says Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez suffered from depression and fought a drug problem and was let go from his job and was having money difficulties and harbored suicidal thoughts.
All of which could explain why the 24-year-old might do something suicidal.
But it does not explain why he would deliberately target an armed forces recruiting center and then a Navy facility, killing four Marines and a sailor.
The reason for that is almost certainly to be found in the pair of blog posts he posted on July 13, the same date his family says he began “a three-day downward spiral” as a result of his personal problems.
In the posts, Abdulazeez describes the material world as a prison and says liberation comes only in following the example set by the disciples of the Prophet Muhammad. He notes that “every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah.”
“We ask Allah to be pleased with us, reward us with Janna,” he writes at the end of the second post, “Janna” being Paradise.
Here he proves himself to be just another dupe who embraced what Islamic extremists offer as an instant solution to all your problems and disappointments.
“If he’s not a terrorist, they ought to redefine the word ‘terrorist,’” a counter-terror law enforcement official said Monday.
Most likely, Abdulazeez’s problems go back to the troubled relationship between his parents, which include allegations the mother made in court papers that she had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the father.
And surely everybody would have been better off if the family had succeeded in getting Abdulazeez into a drug rehab program, as it seems they had hoped to do.
That makes him no less a jihadi than Dylann Roof’s fractured family and drug use made him any less a white supremacist with fantasies of starting a civil war by massacring a Bible study group in a historic black church in Charleston.
Extreme, violent ideologies bent on the murder of innocents are seldom havens for the well-adjusted.
The lone wolves drawn to murder by the likes of ISIS and al Qaeda are invariably lone in their individual pathologies long before they become wolves in the name of Allah.
Anybody who cites Abdulazeez’s many problems should also speak out against the solution he chose.
When he embarked on his rampage, Abdulazeez was actually reinforcing the same unfair stereotype that he was protesting by quoting on his high school yearbook page a T-shirt slogan created by the blogger Javed “HijabMan” Memon.
“My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
After the killings, Memon was quick to condemn all such violence.
“My heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims. Islam doesn’t stand for the killing of innocents. It is antithetical to our values,” Memon wrote upon learning of the yearbook page.
He went on: “Unfortunately, this ‘Muhammad’ pulled the trigger. He is giving life to a stereotype that I am trying to defeat. My T-shirts raise awareness for the thousands of ‘Muhammads’ who don’t and never would harm others, and are in fact good people, but are suspected just the same by mere virtue of their name.”
One of those “Muhammads” is Mohamed Elbardissy, the 34-year-old Egyptian-born co-owner of the Toscano Italian Grill next to the armed forces recruiting center in Chattanooga, where Abdulazeez struck first.
Elbardissy was getting ready to open for the day when he heard the shots. He emerged just as the gunman was driving away in a silver Ford Mustang.
“A big guy,” Elbardissy told The Daily Beast a short time later. “With a little beard, I guess…They said he had a vest, a bulletproof vest.”
Elbardissy was brokenhearted at the sight of a wounded cop and of the bullet holes in the entrance to the recruiting center.
“They are very nice people,” he said of the recruiters, adding that in the year and half he had been open they had developed “not just a customer kind of relationship.”
“We are like a family,” he said. “They come every day.”
Nobody died at the recruiting center, but Abdulazeez killed four Marines and a sailor at his next stop, where he himself was killed. The dead service members were transported to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they would have been sent had they been killed by jihadis overseas. They were accorded the same honors.
In Chattanooga, grief and shock were joined by a glimmer of hope as people came by Elbardissy’s restaurant to express their support.
“We are getting a lot of support from our customers,” he said on Monday. “We are blessed to be in this community.”
He then said something beautiful.
“It’s going to get better,” he said.