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Why Now? FBI Decides Terror Motivated Chattanooga Shooter

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The FBI announced foreign terrorists “inspired and motivated” the shooter behind the attack at a reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee last summer. The designation is significant because allows victims of the shooting to receive the Purple Heart, along with all the benefits and compensations that go with the medal.

In the Chattanooga attack, Mohammed Yousef Abdulaziz killed four U.S. marines and a naval petty officer. FBI investigators just announced Abdulaziz was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric who was a senior operative for Al-Qaeda.

At the time of the shooting, in statements to the media, the FBI pointedly stated Abdulaziz was a “homegrown violent extremist” who acted on his own. The message was not a holding pattern – words chosen by the FBI until more facts were in about the case. Rather, it was part of a national strategy instituted by the U.S. government, explained by the head of U.S. Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson.

Speaking at the Aspen Institute’s annual security forum just days after the attack, Johnson said it was “critical” to call such Islamic terror attacks “violent extremism” to “build trust” and “cooperation” with the Muslim community.   

Although the news of the FBI’s determination was welcomed by the victims' families, some relatives questioned why it took so long to make the assessment. Information available at the time of the shooting indicated the attack was a result of Abdulaziz’s Islamist ideology.

However, their wait was not nearly as long as the wait of victims of the 2009 shooting by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood in Texas. In that attack, after reportedly yelling “Allah Akhbar,” the Islamist jihadi slogan, Hasan gunned down 13 people and injured more than 30.

Just days after the shootings, it was revealed a Joint Terrorism Task Force had been aware of a series of e-mails between Hasan and al-Awlaki. In addition, the National Security Agency had been monitoring Hasan, whom they considered a security threat. Hasan's radicalization had also been apparent to his colleagues for a number of years.

In 2014, Hasan pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and wrote a letter to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi requesting citizenship in his caliphate.

Yet, despite the evidence and many requests from survivors and family members of those killed, the U.S. government categorized the attack as “workplace violence,” thus denying victims being awarded the Purple Heart along with its crucial compensations to the wounded.

However, at the end of 2014, members of Congress devised a strategy to work around the government’s policy to call acts of Islamist terror “violent extremism” or “workplace violence.” While passing the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act at the end of 2014, lawmakers broadened the definition of an attack to include attacks “inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”

Due to the change in the law, even though the Ft. Hood attack is still classified as “workplace violence,” victims of the Fort Hood shooter were awarded the Purple Heart in April.

The government’s apparent strategy of hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil, has certainly not paid off in terms of quelling Islamist attacks and activity on the home front or abroad. In the case of the December 2 shooting in San Bernardino, it was reported in the initial hours after the attack, the FBI was given a directive by the White House to downplay the motivation of terrorism.

However, as the evidence mounted that the shootings were indeed an Islamist terror attack, it became impossible to keep up this charade. 

Islamist extremism is not a game. It is a lethal ideology that is comprising the human rights of millions of the world’s inhabitants. Any successful battle against will only be won by naming it and thus calling for a clear delineation of who is for it and who is against it.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org