A Tether of Terror in Tennessee

Chattanooga- During this all too long and winding year hemmed within the continental United States, I have done my best to make things interesting by exploring the recent history of what is around me. Nearly two decades of the terror wars have affected America in width and breadth not fully thought out by the wars’ early neoconservative architects. Sunni salafi-jihadi terrorism has long since become enmeshed in our cultural landscape of intermittent tragedy akin to school shootings. It’s just something that happens yet as a phenomenon it is little understood more today than the “why do they hate us?” era following 9/11.. Violence has a way of becoming normalised when it occurs with disturbing regularity. “Thoughts and prayers” appears fleetingly on social media platforms until the moment subsides.

The attack began here at approximately 10:45am on 16 July 2015 when Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez began spraying this office with bullets at a strip mall on Lee Highway here in Chattanooga. ©2020 Derek Henry Flood

The US government’s language used to describe the attack by Abdulazeez that July morning remains somewhat ambiguous. Then FBI Director James Comey said at the time the attacks were “inspired and motivated by foreign terrorist propaganda” but fell short of declaring a bonafide terror attack. Seeing as Abdulazeez was gunned down by local law enforcement and thus there was to be no trial in the wake of the attack, perhaps spending time and resources further hashing out the semantics of this utter tragedy in middle America may have been deemed futile. One can infer that Comey was somewhat obliquely referring to IS or perhaps al-Qaeda but there is still room for interpretation.

Reportedly a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, Abdulazeez was a naturalised US citizen so the federal government seemed unsure at the time as to how the would categorise the attack-domestic or international. Much or perhaps all of the reporting about him is less than satisfactory. At the time in 2015, NYT reported that his father had once been under investigation for ties to a foreign terrorist organisation but fails to mention which one, for example.

Abdulazeez then drove to this Navy and Marine centre located within the Tennessee Riverpark near downtown Chattanooga killing four marines and injuring one sailor who succumbed to his injuries two days on. ©2020 Derek Henry Flood

I sort of recreated the shooter’s path driving from the recruitment center on Lee Highway to the Navy and Marine reservist center on Amnicola Highway via highway 153 north. It struck me how much terrorism and mass shootings had become the norm in America on this afternoon journey. In nearly every sizable city I’ve visited in the last year while avoiding NYC’s more stringent lockdowns, you can google the city name and the word ‘attack’ and a wikipedia entry will pop up as the first result of some awful incident that’s occurred in the past 5 or 10 years. Chattanooga was no exception. I had been seeing stickers adhered to storefronts around town saying ‘Nooga Strong and at first wasn’t sure what the obvious homage to Boston Strong was referring to. Sadly, so many cities in America today are now “Strong” in their own way, their own gun-fueled horrors. No amount of “thoughts and prayers” can help curb this phenomenon of mass casualty violence.

A row of five flags along the Riverwalk, one for each of those killed. ©2020 Derek Henry Flood

As I followed the path of the tragedy, I switched modes of transport from van to bike and quietly pedaled from the Naval Operations Support Center down the Tennessee Riverwalk to the Fallen Five memorial, known as the “Wreath of Honor.” There, the light spun off the Tennessee River upon the five pillars representing the five men who perished on that day. This quiet space is surrounded by living, breathing Dogwood trees with stroller moms and scooter kids passing by. The sun began to set and fisherman reeled in their rods for the evening. The quiet belied the terrifying violence that took place here not that many summers ago. Chattanooga, like so many cities today had sadly become ‘Strong’ at great human cost. Abdulazeez, the sadistic shooter, was never tied to any transnational Sunni terrorist outfit to my knowledge. The Chattanooga attack is not remembered on a national level of notoriety like the Fort Hood attack(s) but is very much a big deal in this warm, modest-sized city.

The Wreath of Honor, also referred to as the Fallen Five memorial, along the Tennessee River at dusk late last year. ©2020 Derek Henry Flood