Members of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez's family believe deep depression and shame over an arrest for impaired driving may have led him to go on a rampage in which five U.S. servicemen died last week, a source close to the family said on Tuesday.
Two days before the fatal shooting at military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Abdulazeez told his family he was going to work, the source said, but they learned from his friends that he took a marijuana and alcohol-fueled "joy ride" in a rented car.
The trigger for his "bender" was the worsening of depression that had dogged the 24-year-old engineer for years, the family believes. He was also "very ashamed" about the DUI arrest in April and an approaching court appearance, the family source said, and may have had difficulty reconciling his drinking and marijuana use with his Muslim faith.
Investigators have evidence that Abdulazeez searched for general jihadist propaganda that may have inspired the rampage, a source close to the investigation said on Monday, although no direct link has so far been found between the suspect and any militant group such as Islamic State or al Qaeda.
His family now believes Abdulazeez was looking for spiritual guidance on how he might be "forgiven for my sins," the family source said, and that quest may have contributed to his decision to attack.
The shooting follows a series of attacks, or thwarted attacks, in the United States and other countries by Muslims claiming to be inspired by Islamic State or other militant groups.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged the difficulty of preventing "lone wolf" attacks such as the Chattanooga shooting because of their random nature.
"Unfortunately, mass shootings, rampages and the like are too common in this country," he told a Politico breakfast forum on Tuesday. "I believe that they will continue unless we do something about them."
Abdulazeez's family was unaware that the suspect had any contacts with or specific sympathies for jihadist groups or leaders, the representative said.
But investigators think Abdulazeez's online activities included reading the writings of Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American militant preacher affiliated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to a government source. Al Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Abdulazeez went to Jordan between April and November 2014, the family representative said, escorted by his mother. He stayed there largely “under lock and key,” under the supervision of an unnamed grandfather and uncle, the source said.
Jordanian authorities have detained an uncle of Abdulazeez since last week's shooting, a U.S. government source said on Tuesday. It is not clear whether the uncle who was detained is the one who hosted the suspected gunman last year.
The lawyer for the detained maternal uncle, Abdel Qader al-Khatib, said he has been barred from seeing his client, identified as Asaad Ibrahim Abdulazeez Haj Ali, the Associated Press reported.
Jordanian authorities and the uncle's lawyer could not be reached immediately for comment.
Abdulazeez had made other trips to the Middle East earlier for family purposes, the representative said.
Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was killed in a gunfight with police after he sprayed gunfire at a military recruiting center in Chattanooga, then drove to a nearby Naval Reserve Center where he shot and killed four Marines. Three people were wounded, including a sailor who died on Saturday.
Such "lone wolf" attacks by militant, radicalized U.S. Muslims acting on their own pose a greater risk to the country than a large-scale operation, President Barack Obama has said.
(By Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Frank McGurty in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by James Dalgleish)