In the hours after he fatally shot four U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor, close friends of Muhammad Youssef Abdelazeez discussed whether his motivation was jihad, or something else.
Text messages obtained exclusively by CNN reveal shock and disbelief when Abdelazeez’s close friends learned the name of the gunman who opened fire on two military centers in Chattanooga.
“It can’t be our abdulaziz (sic) ..” wrote James Petty, a close friend who considered the 24-year-old a devout Muslim and his spiritual mentor.
The text messages were sent in a group thread on WhatsApp. Petty said this was a close group of friends who communicated regularly about Islam among themselves and with Abdelazeez. Petty gave the texts to CNN on condition that the names of the other people in the conversation not be published.
One friend wrote, “#chattanooga on twitter it can’t not be him.”
Another responded, “the n**** was just giving us advice and hadith.”
A third responded: “Man wtf?????! Is wrong wit him? (Someone) just text me that he is dead?”
Abdelazeez was killed during the shootout. His friends couldn’t believe it.
“This is crazy. He was just and still is in our group message. He was talking to us an eryting (sic).” Another says “It was just the other day we had Iftar.” To which another replies, I was with him the night before yest(erday).”
Another asks, “How was he like? Wat was his convo about” to which the replies were “He was calm. AbdulAziz (sic) was always calm about everything.” And “Normal.”
As word of the deadly shooting spread, the text messages show Abdelazeez’s friends discussing whether anyone had noticed unusual behavior. “He ever talk about Jihad any? Or how corrupt the society is?” one asks.
The reply: “Dude he just had a new job and everything. This is out of nowhere”.
At one point, a friend interjects in an attempt to stop the jihad conversation: “Shut up. Shut up. Stop No one know anything,” he wrote.
Someone responded: “Can we just pray for him guys.”
Toward the end of the text message, the conversation turns to prayer, “This was his choice,” one friend reminds the group, “May Allah forgive him and us all. Ameen” to which someone said, “bro there is no foigivrness (sic) for taking innocent lives.”
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Petty said he converted to Islam because of Abdelazeez.
He dismissed any notion that Abdulazeez was influenced by a terrorist group like ISIS, saying the shooter told him, “That it was a stupid group and that it was completely against Islam. And not to even think about going towards them.”
In one of the last messages sent in their WhatsApp chat, one of the group members told the group “What ever happens don’t forget he was our brother.”