In Chattanooga, journalists ask the obvious question: What role did gunman's religion play?

The banner headline in today's Chattanooga Times Free Press tells the story:

Here we go again: One more mass shooting. One more devastated community. One more dead gunman who leaves a plethora of unanswered questions in his wake.

Right beside its main story on the four U.S. Marines killed in Thursday's rampage, a Times Free Press sidebar asks the obvious question:

Who was Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez?

But at this point, even the exact spelling of Abdulazeez's first name is unclear: Federal authorities and records gave at least four variations, as The Associated Press reports. While the Times Free Press goes with "Mohammad," and AP uses "Muhammad," The New York Times identifies him as "Mohammod."

The spelling issue aside, however, the suspect's Muslim background and potential ties to Islamic extremists is drawing major media attention, and rightfully so. Much of that coverage relies on a blog linked to Abdulazeez.

This is the headline on a Washington Post report:

Chattanooga shooter: Prophet’s friends ‘fought Jihad for the sake of Allah’

That story notes:

A man who killed four Marines Thursday in shootings at a pair of military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn., started a blog about Islam just days ago that made references to jihad and life’s transience.
The shooter, identified by the FBI as Mohammad Youssef Abdul­azeez, 24, of Hixson, Tenn., was killed, apparently by police, after the rampage. However, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online postings by radical Islamist organizations, Abdul­azeez was the author of “MYABDULAZEEZ,” a blog begun on July 13 with just two entries.
In the first, “A Prison Called Dunya,” Abdul­azeez appeared to describe everyday life as a prison, and the Koran as a means of transcending it. In Arabic, “Dunya” refers to earthly concerns as opposed to spiritual ones.
“Imagine that you are taken by force and placed in a prison,” Abdul­azeez wrote. “Once in the prison you realize that the living arrangements in this prison really aren’t that bad. There is a sun room, a TV to watch, computer to use, phone, different kinds of food, and even a section for exercise.”

Abdulazeez's own words about his beliefs are crucial to media coverage. Like the Post, other major news organizations quote the writings:

The New York Times also has an interesting sidebar on the Chattanooga mosque where Abdulazeez worshiped:

That story quotes Dr. Azhar S. Sheikh, a founding member of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga:

The mosque and center, he said, normally draw about 200 or 300 people for Friday Prayer, and serve a diverse community with roots in Pakistan, Africa, India, the Middle East and the United States.
The bellicose interpretations of jihad, he said, were not preached at the mosque, and he said that parents were sensitive to the way that the Islamic State and other radical groups had used the Internet to entice and recruit young American and European Muslims to violent causes.
“We certainly do not want to be part of that demented ideology,” he said. “That is not the message we preach here. What people do on the Internet or the World Wide Web or in their own homes, we can’t control that.”

The Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga has condemned Thursday's shooting as an act "of cowardice and hate."

This latest tragedy brings to mind a story that the Los Angeles Times' Sarah Parvini wrote a few months ago. The tweet that Godbeat pro Manya Brachear Pashman of the Chicago Tribune sent out at the time:

If you didn't see Parvini's story at the time, it's still worth a read.

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