FBI: San Bernardino Shooters Tashfeen Malik And Syed Farook Radicalized Years Before Marriage
The Director of the F.B.i. told Congress today that the San Bernardino shooters were apparently radicalized much earlier than previously believed.
The Director of the F.B.I. told Congress today that Syad Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik had apparently been radicalized long before meeting online and getting married in 2014, and that Farook may have been planning some kind of terrorist attack in Southern California as long as two years ago:
WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said Wednesday that the couple who waged a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., last week had been talking of an attack as far back as two years ago, before the United States gave the woman approval to enter the country.
The disclosure raised the possibility that American immigration and law enforcement authorities missed something in the woman’s background when they granted her the approval. It also suggested that the attackers had been inspired by groups that were far older than the Islamic State, which rose to prominence in 2014.
The couple were “talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and married and were living in the U.S.,” Mr. Comey said.
Mr. Comey said that the “investigation to date shows that they were radicalized before they started courting or dating each other online.”
The couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, met online before she moved to the United States in 2014.
Ms. Malik entered the United States on a K-1 visa, a 90-day visa given to fiancés planning to marry Americans.
Mr. Comey’s statements show that the couple were motivated by extremist views long before the rise of the Islamic State, which grabbed large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Facebook has provided the F.B.I. with a post made by Ms. Malik during the attacks, in which she pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. That post had led investigators to believe that the group was at the least an inspiration for the attack.
Mr. Comey said that the F.B.I. believes that the couple were inspired by foreign extremist groups.
“We are working very hard to see if anyone else was involved in assisting, equipping or helping them,” he said. “And did they have other plans?”
Mr. Comey’s comments came seven days after the attacks, which killed 14 and injured 21.
The F.B.I. has uncovered evidence that the couple were radicalized long before they got married in 2014. The bureau has video evidence that they practiced at firing ranges in the days before the attack, and agents found more than a dozen pipe bombs in their home.
But the bureau has not found evidence that the couple were ordered to attack by the Islamic State or any other group. And they are not believed to have had any accomplices, although investigators are suspicious about what family members and friends may have known about the couple’s plans.
Mr. Comey’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee had been scheduled before the attacks, as part of the committee’s oversight of the F.B.I.
The Washington Post has more:
The attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino last week were discussing jihad at least two years before they opened fire in California, the FBI director said Wednesday.
The husband-and-wife duo “were radicalized for quite a long time before their attack,” FBI Director James B. Comey said during an appearance on Capitol Hill. This follows earlier statements by investigators that the shooters had both been adherents to a radical strain of Islam long before the massacre.
Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old county health inspector, and his Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, had begun communicating online, Comey said. It was during these communications that they began discussing jihadist thoughts, long before Malik traveled to the United States and they got married.
“And online…as early as the end as 2013, they were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and then married and lived together in the United States,” Comey said during his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This radicalization appears to predate the rise of the Islamic State, the terrorist group that in 2014 formally declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.
Comey said investigators believe the attackers were “inspired by foreign terrorist organizations.”
“We’re working very hard to understand exactly their association and the source of their inspiration,” he said. “We’re also working very hard to understand whether there was anybody else involved with assisting them, with supporting them, with equipping them.”
When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a presidential candidate, if the marriage between Malik and Farook was arranged by a terrorist organization, Comey said he didn’t know yet.
“It would be a very important thing to know,” Comey said. He also said he was not aware of any Islamic State cells operating in the United States.
Authorities have said that just after the attack, Malik posted on Facebook pledging allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State. In her posting, which used the name Khalifah Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Al Qurashi, the emir of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, she said “We pledge allegiance,” so investigators now believe it was made on behalf of both of the attackers, law enforcement officials said.
“It’s looking like they were on the same path at the same time,” a law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, said Tuesday.
Farook and Malik were killed in a shootout with police hours after the shooting last week.
There is also some news about the man who apparently helped Farook get the long rifles that were eventually used in the attack:
The FBI investigation also remains focused on a former neighbor who provided the military-grade rifles used during the attack that killed 14 people in addition to wounding 21 others. It was the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The neighbor, Enrique Marquez, legally purchased the rifles — semiautomatic AR-15s manufactured by DPMS and Smith & Wesson — in California, officials say. The FBI is still investigating whether Marquez sold these rifles to Farook, his former neighbor, according to the officials.
Comey said Wednesday that there was an attempt to convert the rifles into fully automatic weapons before the attack.
Marquez and Farook appear to have had other connections in addition to being neighbors. An official with the Islamic Center of Corona-Norco, in Corona, Calif., the mosque Syed Farook’s brother Raheel regularly attended, said he believed that Marquez had periodically attended the center.
Yousuf Bhaghani, a senior official at the center, said in an interview Tuesday that he had not interacted with Marquez but that other members he had spoken with said they recalled him occasionally praying at the mosque four or five years ago. Those who interacted with Marquez described him as a “decent person,” Bhaghani said. “They didn’t see anything which caused alarm.”
Marquez, who lived next door to the Farook family for years, is also married to a woman who appears to be a relative of Tatiana Farook, the wife of Syed’s brother Raheel, according to county records. Both Marquez and the bride, Russian-born Mariya Chernykh, list the same home address as Raheel Farook, and Raheel and Tatiana Farook were witnesses to the couple’s marriage. The Corona mosque is listed as the couple’s religious center. The family connection was first reported by Reuters.
Marquez has been questioned by the FBI, which is interested in learning about the guns he provided as well as whether he had any knowledge of the plot. The FBI is also investigating whether Marquez and Farook had talked about getting into “badness,” said another of the officials.
As part of the investigation, authorities are looking at the financial records of the attackers. The FBI is looking at suspicious financial transactions, including a $28,500 cash loan from an online bank prior to the massacre, an official said.
Fox News first reported that the $28,500 was deposited into Farook’s bank account last month, about two weeks before the shooting.
The news that this couple had apparently become radicalized long before 2014 seems significant for several reason. The most prominent, of course, is the fact this is a date that pre-dates for the most part the existence of ISIS as anything other than a guerilla force fighting in the Syrian civil war and perhaps probing against the Iraq Army. It certainly pre-dates the propaganda campaign that organization was running to encourage “lone wolf” type attacks in the West. This seems to discount the idea that it was the rise of ISIS that inspired either one of these people to undertake the terrorist attack in San Bernardino one week ago, although it does not preclude the possibility that other jihadist organizations that have since pledged their own loyalty to ISIS and its leader were the source of their radicalization. We also don’t seem to know, or at least law enforcement currently isn’t saying, whether Farook’s radicalization was something he came to on his own or whether he was in contact with parties overseas that pushed him in that direction. With respect to the woman who eventually became Farook’s wife, based on what we know about the timeline of her life in the last several years it would seem likely that she was radicalized either while living in Pakistan, or in Saudi Arabia where she spent several years. Again, there’s been no comment from law enforcement at this time about who she may have had contact with. In any case, it now appears that Farook and Malik were radicalized long before they met each other, and that they seem to have come to their beliefs before meeting in person. Whether this means that they were brought together for the purpose of acting as some sort of “sleeper cell” in the United States is unclear, but seems to be a possibility that the F.B.I. is at least pursuing at the moment.
The other thing worth noting is that many of the relevant events at the root of this case happened while the National Security Agency’s metadata program, which was recently ended in favor of a program designed to provide more due process and privacy protection, was still in effect and apparently before the existence and extent of the program was revealed by Edward Snowden and others. The fact that, notwithstanding this, the program apparently failed to detect any contacts Farook in particular may have had with people outside the United States would seem to undercut the arguments that many people such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio has made that the changes to that program have weakened national security. If the program as it existed failed to detect Farook activities even enough for him to become a subject of interest, then one has to question the value of keeping the program as it existed before November 30th, especially given the serious violations of privacy and constitutional rights that are implicated by it.
Obviously, we’re still in the early stages of this investigation and there are likely to be more facts that will come out that will help to fill in the many gaps we still have in our knowledge of what led up to the terrorist attack last week. As things stand right now, though, it’s becoming clear that the full picture is likely to be a lot more complicated, and concerning, than first appeared.
Photo of Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook arriving at U.S. Customs, O’Hare Airport in July 2014 via ABC News