Chattanooga Who’s Who

Memes incorrectly stated Chattanooga shooter Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez was a "refugee," but he was a naturalized American citizen who emigrated as an infant.

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chattanooga shooter refugee

Claim: Chattanooga shooter Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez was a refugee.


Examples: [Collected via e-mail, November 2015]

Seems like another false message is being spread.  But I can’t verify it.

Origins: Ongoing, worldwide debate about Syrian refugees escalated after a series of November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Among threads of that larger discussion were assertions that specific individuals involved in previous attacks were “refugees.”

In the aftermath rumors circulated claiming Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan (born in Virginia) was a refugee, and similar memes asserted the Tsarnaev brothers (who emigrated as children, and one of whom was a naturalized American citizen) were “asylum seekers.” A concurrent rumor held that Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, perpetrator of the July 2015 Chattanooga shootings, was also a refugee.

On 16 July 2015 Abdulazeez engaged in a shooting spree at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing five servicemen before he himself died in a shootout. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) later indicated that Abdulazeez’s motives were unclear, but possibly religious in nature.

Why Abdulazeez perpetrated the shooting remained somewhat of a mystery, but whether the Chattanooga shooter was a refugee was far less complicated.  He was “a Kuwait-born U.S. citizen“:

The gunman who targeted U.S. military service members in a late-morning shooting Thursday in Tennessee was a 24-year-old electrical engineer who had grown up in Chattanooga as part of a conservative Muslim family.

Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait but moved with his family to the United States as an infant after the start of the Persian Gulf War and became a U.S. citizen, according to accounts given by friends and one of his sisters.

TIME reported:

He was of Jordanian descent and was born in Kuwait in 1990, according to a federal official quoted in the New York Times. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen after moving to the country with his mother, who is from Kuwait, and father Youssuf Abdulazeez, who is Palestinian, reported the SITE Intelligence Group.

Little is known about the circumstances under which Abdulazeez emigrated to the United States:

Born in Kuwait in 1990, Mr. Abdulazeez became an American citizen in 2003 through the naturalization of his mother, federal officials said; his father was also naturalized. Because he was a minor, he did not have to apply separately for citizenship. A divorce complaint filed by his mother in 2009 and then withdrawn, said the parents were from “the State of Palestine.”

On 13 November 2015, the Associated Press reported that investigators remained circumspect about Abdulazeez’s motive:

“We’re still trying to make sure we understand Abdulazeez, his motivations and associations, in a really good way,” FBI Director James Comey told reporters during a visit to Nashville’s FBI field office on Friday.

Comey said he understands the public interest in the shooting, but he did not know whether there would ever be a public report on it.

“Sometimes the way we investigate requires us to keep information secret. That’s a good thing. We don’t want to smear people,” he said.

That article stated that the FBI considered “Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez [to be] a homegrown violent extremist.” However, he emigrated to the United States as an infant, was a naturalized U.S citizen, and was never once described as a “refugee” prior to the November 2015 controversy over asylum seekers.

Last updated: 20 November 2015

Originally published: 20 November 2015