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4 Marines and suspected gunman killed in Tennessee shootings at 2 military sites

WATCH ABOVE: Chattanooga mayor recalls heroic actions of officers during fatal shooting

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – A gunman unleashed a barrage of fire at a recruiting centre and another U.S. military site a few miles apart in Chattanooga on Thursday, killing at least four Marines, officials said. The attacker was also killed.

Federal authorities said they were investigating the possibility it was an act of terrorism, and the FBI took charge ofhe case.

Authorities identified the gunman as Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, of Hixson, Tennessee, though the spelling of his first name was in dispute, with federal officials and records giving at least four variations.

This April 2015 booking photo released by the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office shows a man identified as Mohammad Youssduf Adbulazeer after being detained for a driving offense. A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity identified the gunman in shootings at two Chattanooga military facilities as Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who shares the same age and address as the man in the photo. (Hamilton County Sheriffs Office via AP)

A U.S. official said there was no indication Abdulazeez was on the radar of federal law enforcement before the shootings. The official was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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VIDEO GALLERY:

The shootings took place minutes apart, with the gunman stopping his car and spraying dozens of bullets first at a recruiting centre for all branches of the military, then apparently driving to a Navy-Marine training centre 7 miles away, authorities and witnesses said. The attacks were over within a half-hour.

In addition to the Marines killed, three people were reported wounded, including a sailor who was said to have been seriously hurt.

“Lives have been lost from some faithful people who have been serving our country, and I think I join all Tennesseans in being both sickened and saddened by this,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.

IN PHOTOS: Images from the scene of the shooting in Chattanooga

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In this image made from video and released by WRCB-TV, authorities work an active shooting scene on amincola highway near the Naval Reserve Center, in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Thursday, July 16, 2015. (WRCB-TV via AP)
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Law enforcement perch on the rear of an armored vehicle as they prepare at a staging area on Hixson Pike to investigate a nearby home on Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.. (Doug Strickland/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
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Police officers enter the Armed Forces Career Center through a bullet-riddled door after a gunman opened fire on the building Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Authorities say there were multiple casualties including the gunman. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Paul Clendenen guards the top of the C.B. Robinson Bridge at Amnicola Highway after a morning shooting near the Naval Reserve Center, in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Thursday, July 16, 2015. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
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Store employees look out their door next to the Reserve Recruitment Center as the area is cordoned off after a shooting on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
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Reserve Recruitment personnel stand outside a Navy recruiting building as the area is cordoned off with blue shell casing markers in the parking lot on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
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Chattanooga police talk to Reserve Recruitment Center personnel at the Lee Hwy office as the area is cordoned off with blue shell casing markers in the parking lot on Thursday, July 16, 2015 in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

Authorities would not say how the gunman died. FBI agent Ed Reinhold said Abdulazeez had “numerous weapons” but would not give details.

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“We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism, whether it’s domestic, international, or whether it was a simple criminal act,” Reinhold said.

Within hours of the bloodshed, law officers with guns drawn swarmed what was believed to be Abdulazeez’s house, and two females were led away in handcuffs.

Map locates two shooting sites.
Map locates two shooting sites. (AP Photo)

A dozen law enforcement vehicles, including a bomb-squad truck and an open-sided Army green truck carrying armed men, rolled into the Colonial Shores neighbourhood of Hixson, and police closed off streets and turned away people trying to reach their homes.

Abdulazeez graduated from the University of Chattanooga in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, school spokesman Mike Andrews said. He was a student intern a few years ago at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the federally owned utility that operates power plants and dams across the South.

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The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center said it has seen nothing so far to connect Abdulazeez any terrorist organization. But it noted that the Islamic State group has been encouraging extremists to carry out attacks in the U.S., and several such homegrown acts or plots have unfolded in recent months.

The names of the dead were not immediately released. In addition to the wounded sailor, a Marine was hit in the leg but not seriously hurt, and a police officer was shot in the ankle, authorities said.

In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged a prompt and thorough investigation and said the White House had been in touch with the Pentagon to make sure military installations are being vigilant.

“It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who served our country with great valour to be killed in this fashion,” he said.

Vice-President Joe Biden likewise said: “Their families have already given a lot to the country, and now this.”

The shootings began at the recruiting centre on Old Lee Highway, where a shot rang out around 10:30 or 10:45 a.m., followed a few seconds later by more fire, said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Dodge, leader of Army recruiting at the centre.

He and his comrades dropped to the ground and barricaded themselves in a safe place. Dodge estimated there were 30 to 50 shots fired. Doors and glass were damaged at the neighbouring Air Force, Navy and Marine offices, he said.

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Law enforcement officials told recruiters that the gunman stopped his car in front of the recruiting station, shot at the building and drove off, said Brian Lepley, a spokesman with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The recruiting centre sits in a short strip mall, between a cellphone business and an Italian restaurant, with no apparent special security.

The gunman opened fire next at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center Chattanooga. All the dead were killed there.

The Navy-Marine centre is in an industrial area that includes a Coca-Cola bottling plant. The two entrances to the fenced facility have unmanned gates and concrete barriers that require approaching cars to slow down to drive around them.

Marilyn Hutcheson, who works at Binswanger Glass across the street, said she heard a barrage of gunfire around 11 a.m.

“I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many,” she said. “It was rapid-fire, like pow-pow-pow-pow-pow, so quickly. The next thing I knew, there were police cars coming from every direction.”

She ran inside, and she and other employees and a customer waited it out with the doors locked. The gunfire continued with occasional bursts for what she estimated was 20 minutes. Bomb squads, SWAT teams and other local, state and federal authorities rushed to the scene.

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“If it was a grievance or terroristic related, we just don’t know,” she said.

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