CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—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 Tuesday.
Abed al-Kader Ahmad al-Khateeb told The Associated Press that he was barred from seeing his client and that family members were also prevented from visiting the detainee. Al-Khateeb identified his client as Asaad Ibrahim Asaad Haj Ali, a maternal uncle of the Chattanooga attacker, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
A Jordanian government official said 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 authorized 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 spokesman has declined to comment on that information.
Jordan is one of the most Westernized 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 U.S., 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 Thursday morning.
A U.S. official familiar with the investigation said investigators have found writings from Abdulazeez that reference Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011 and who American officials believe played an important role in encouraging and inspiring attacks on the homeland. The official was not authorized to discuss by name an ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, investigators have said they have not found evidence that Abdulazeez was specifically directed by someone to carry out the attacks.
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.
“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 program 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.