AMMAN, Jordan — The young visitor from America rode his skateboard, jogged near his house or strolled to the market, barely acknowledging his neighbors. He was a regular at the mosque, but never bothered to introduce himself to fellow worshipers, appearing as indifferent to them as he seemed to his surroundings.
“He made no effort,” said the mosque’s imam.
After Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, was identified by the police as the gunman who killed five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn., last month, speculation arose in the United States about what he might have experienced in Jordan last year, during a monthslong visit to his family.
The attack, on July 16, was among several recent shootings by Americans that have left law enforcement officials grappling with the interior lives of the gunmen, rather than the sway of organized extremist groups. The expanding lexicon officials use to describe such men — phrases like “self-radicalizing” and “lone wolves” — hardly seems to accommodate the psychological and social factors underpinning the violence.
As’ad Ibrahim As’ad Haj Ali, the uncle of the man identified as the Chattanooga, Tenn., gunman, in a photograph obtained by The New York Times.
No one was able to say what Mr. Abdulazeez was doing in the privacy of his home, where he seemed to spend most of his time. But his apparent solitude added weight to early theories by investigators in the United States who suspected he had acted alone and was not directed by any militant group.
In some respects, Mr. Abdulazeez’s case echoes that of Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old accused of killing nine parishioners in a church in Charleston, S.C. Like Mr. Roof, Mr. Abdulazeez drifted from job to job, had run-ins with the authorities and abused drugs and alcohol.
Some have speculated that the young man became swept up in politics or militancy, in a country seared by wars across borders, or grasped for answers to his personal struggles, including depression, in Islam.
But the imam, Ayoub Bourini, and others in the tiny middle-class neighborhood in east Amman where Mr. Abdulazeez lived for a time said they had seen no sign of the rage he unleashed in Tennessee — or for that matter, any spark at all, describing a man whose mind always seemed to be elsewhere.
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His apparent quest for piety at the mosque was also unremarkable — less searching than a matter of routine, the imam and others said. He had not been like the “aggressive ones” the imam had seen in his 10 years of leading services, men who verbally attacked him after he gave his weekly Friday sermon.
Mr. Abdulazeez, an American citizen who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian-Jordanian parents, had at times skipped his medications for depression, been arrested for drunken driving and faced bankruptcy. He had written about his “worthless” life and suicide, as well as his anger at American policies in the Middle East.
In the days leading up to the shooting, he searched the Internet for Islamic scholarship on martyrdom, apparently hoping it might absolve his sins, investigators said.
He had been sent to Jordan last year to live with his uncle and grandfather, to get away from “bad influences” at home in Tennessee, a family representative said.
Hamilton County Sheriffs Office
American law enforcement officials had been investigating whether the uncle, As’ad Ibrahim As’ad Haj Ali, helped steer his nephew toward militancy. Jordanian investigators detained Mr. Ali last month, and F.B.I. agents were dispatched to question him and any associates.
Officials have not said what, if anything, the interrogation revealed. Mr. Ali, who was released from custody last week, greeted a reporter at the family home in Amman but declined to talk about his nephew.
Neighbors described Mr. Ali as a conservative Muslim — part of a clique that was active at the mosque — but said there was no sign that he had any strong ideological or political beliefs.
He and his nephew had lived together with the grandfather, in a white villa at the bottom of a hill. The neighborhood had sprouted only in the past few decades, on parcels of land the government sold around the old mosque, said Abdul Monem Barham, who lived next door to the grandfather’s house.
Tidy roads lined with small apartment buildings and villas trailed off into desert lots, signs of a neighborhood and a community still without shape. “People here are far from each other,” Mr. Barham said.
He thought Mr. Abdulazeez spent two or three months in Jordan — others said it was four to seven — surrounded by strangers in a country that often feels on edge.
The rise of the Islamic State extremist group in the region was just the latest source of anxiety in Jordan, a state filled with refugees of conflicts in Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian territories.
The economy, including the tourist industry, has suffered from the regional political turmoil as well as the aftereffect of the global recession, leading to growing inequality and flashes of popular discontent, according to Mouin Rabbani, a co-editor of Jadaliyya, an electronic magazine about the Middle East.
It was hard to say whether the political tensions stirred anything in Mr. Abdulazeez, given his apparent reluctance to engage with Jordanians. “He didn’t have any social relationships here, not even with his own generation,” said Qassem Mohammed, who lived two doors away from Mr. Abdulazeez and was one of the few people who remembered the young man without having to look at his photograph.
Mr. Abdulazeez was diligent about attending the mosque, Mr. Mohammed said. But, he added, “he didn’t open up.”
Mr. Rabbani, who is based in Amman, said that, without knowing anything about Mr. Abdulazeez’s time in Jordan, he seemed to fit with a trend of either “born-again” Muslims or recent converts who “generally have a shallow understanding of their religion.”
“If you’re on a journey of rediscovering or discovering your new identity, the field is primarily open for those who scream the loudest, who are able to give you the most black-and-white version with as little ambiguity or doubt or critical examination,” he said, adding that this phenomenon is hardly limited to Islam.
“You have confused, problematic, perhaps disturbed youngsters, who latch onto a simple explanation of the world that solves all their problems.”
The carnage in Chattanooga, like Mr. Abdulazeez’s visit, passed without much notice in the neighborhood, lost in the accounts of massacres and crimes in Syria or other places closer to home, said the imam, Mr. Bourini.
“Every day, there is news of death,” he said. “This was very far away.”
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(via NY Times)