Tennessee shooter's uncle held in Jordan

2015-07-21 21:42
The US flag is lowered to half staff above the White House in Washington to honour the five service members who were killed by a gunman in Chattanooga. (Andrew Harnik, AP)

The US flag is lowered to half staff above the White House in Washington to honour the five service members who were killed by a gunman in Chattanooga. (Andrew Harnik, AP)

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Chattanooga - An uncle of the man who killed four Marines and a sailor in attacks on Tennessee military sites has been in custody in Jordan since a day after the attack, a lawyer said on Tuesday.

Abdel Qader al-Khatib told The Associated Press that he was barred from seeing his client and that family members were also prevented from visiting the detainee. Al-Khatib identified his client as Asaad Ibrahim Abdulazeez Haj Ali, a maternal uncle of the Chattanooga attacker, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.

A Jordanian government official said on Tuesday that some of Abdulazeez's relatives in Jordan were being questioned as part of an investigation into his stay in the kingdom. He would not elaborate on the probe.

The official said he was sure the uncle and "other relevant people" are being questioned, but that he did not know whether he was in detention. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the case with the media.

Abdulazeez spent several months in Jordan last year under a mutual agreement with his parents to help him get away from drugs, alcohol and a group of friends his relatives considered a bad influence, according to a person close to his family. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern it would have business repercussions.

An FBI spokesperson has declined to comment on that information.

Jordan is one of the most Westernised countries in the Middle East, with alcohol sold openly. However, the kingdom has also seen the spread of Islamic militant ideas in recent years, especially following the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

In the US, authorities are struggling to understand Abdulazeez's motive. Investigators have described their search through the remnants of his life as a domestic terrorism investigation, but nothing about his comings and goings had caught their attention before the rampage on Thursday morning.

Adding to the muddled picture, many who knew him have described a clean-cut high school wrestler who graduated from college with an engineering degree and attended a local mosque.

'He was normal'

"Everything seemed fine. He was normal. He was telling me work was going great," said one of the friends, Ahmed Saleen Islam, 26, who knew Abdulazeez through the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga and saw him at the mosque two or three nights before the attacks.

But the person close to the family talked about a darker side of Abdulazeez. He was first treated by a child psychiatrist for depression when he was 12 or 13 years old. Several years ago, relatives tried to have him admitted to an in-patient programme for drug and alcohol abuse, but a health insurer refused to approve the expense.

Court records point to a volatile family life. His mother filed for divorce in 2009 and accused her husband of sexually assaulting her and abusing their children. She later agreed to reconcile.

A year after graduating from college with an engineering degree, Abdulazeez lost a job at a nuclear power plant in Ohio in May 2013 because of what a federal official described as a failed drug test.

Recently, Abdulazeez had begun working the night shift at a manufacturing plant and was taking medication to help with problems sleeping in the daytime, the person said, and he had a prescription for muscle relaxants because of a back problem.

Abdulazeez was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence April 20. He told a Chattanooga police officer he was with friends who had been smoking marijuana. The report said Abdulazeez, who had white powder on his nose when he was stopped, told the officer he also had sniffed powdered caffeine.

The arrest was "important" because Abdulazeez was deeply embarrassed and seemed to sink further into depression following the episode, the person said. Some close relatives learned of the charge only days before the shooting.

The family believes his personal struggles could be at the heart of last week's killings, the person close to them said.

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