FBI agents investigating the Chattanooga shootings are reviewing a text the Kuwaiti-born gunman sent hours before the attacks that included a link to an Islamic verse saying, “Whoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him.”
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez sent the text to a friend the night before he attacked a military recruiting office and a Navy reserve center, killing five service members, the New York Times reported Sunday, citing a law enforcement official.
Investigators are looking into the text message not only to verify it, but to see if could be a clue to what motivated Abdulazeez, the paper said.
The FBI interviewed the friend who came forward with the text. The friend,who has not been publicly identified, told Reuters he thought nothing of the text initially but now wonders if it was a hint to Thursday’s attacks.
Fox News reported that the friend said Abdulazeez sent the text to him as encouragement for a job dilemma he was having. The friend wasn’t sure that the job he was considering squared with his Islamic beliefs.
Meantime, the jihadi’s parents said in a statement that their son suffered from depression and was not the same person they knew.
"There are no words to describe our shock, horror, and grief," said the statement, provided Saturday to the Associated Press by a lawyer representing the Abdulazeez family. "The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved. For many years, our son suffered from depression. It grieves us beyond belief to know that his pain found its expression in this heinous act of violence."
"We understand there are many legitimate questions that need to be answered," the statement said. "Having said this, now is the time to reflect on the victims and their families, and we feel it would be inappropriate to say anything more other than that we are truly sorry for their loss."
The family also said they are cooperating with the investigation.
Some Muslims now fear the Chattanooga community’s perception of them had changed after the shooting rampage.
Mohsin Ali, a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said he hopes the local community doesn’t dissolve into turmoil the others have in the region over building mosques and other matters. Peaceful coexistence has largely prevailed in the city that has pride itself on strong ties between people of different faiths.
"We, our kids, feel 100 percent American and Chattanoogan," said the Pakistani-born Ali, who is a child psychiatrist. "Now they are wondering if that is how people still look at them."
Serving a warrant on the Abdulazeez home Thursday, agents led two women wearing Islamic head coverings away in handcuffs. However, FBI agent Jason Pack said Saturday that no arrests have been made in the case.
Authorities are looking into the shooting as a terrorism investigation and whether Abdulazeez was inspired or directed by a terrorist organization. They still don’t know what motivated the shooting.
The president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga said Abdulazeez's father told him he felt blindsided and did not see any recent changes in his son.
"He told me that he had never seen it coming, and did not see any signs from his son that he would be that way and do something like that," Bassam Issa said.
Ali said immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to America and the armed forces to protect it, because they often know firsthand what it means to live in countries without personal freedoms or the rule of law. Near the end of Friday night’s service, at Ali’s urging, dozens of Muslims received a standing ovation as they stood in support of their city and in allegiance to their nation.
It was a remarkable show of togetherness in a region where relations have sometimes been tense since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Still, the events of the last few days have left some on edge, particularly the young. The end of Ramadan is usually a time for celebration, but events at the Islamic Center were canceled after the shootings. A sign on the door Friday encouraged visitors to go to the memorial service instead.
Khadija Aslam, 15, didn't wear her head covering in the car while riding to prayer services after the shootings for fear of attracting attention, and 15-year-old Zoha Ahmad said her family is worried about the possibility of vandalism at their home.
"A lot of people know we live there and that we're Muslims," she said.
Ali said he plans to offer group counseling for concerned members of the Islamic community at his home, and that might help ease concerns. But, he isn't sure.
"We'll see," said Ali.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.