Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik are suspected of killing 14 people during a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. Today their landlord allowed media to see their apartment.
FBI director James Comey confirmed Friday that his agency was treating the shooting spree in San Bernardino as a “federal terrorist investigation” but said there is no indication the killers were part of a cell or network or were directed by a terrorist group.
Authorities say Syed Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, opened fire on a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in on Wednesday, killing 14 people and injuring 21. They were killed hours later in a gunbattle with police as they attempted to flee in a black SUV.
Comey said there are indications of “radicalization by the killers and the potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations,” but did not elaborate. U.S. officials earlier said Malik had expressed support for the Islamic State terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a posting on Facebook.
While noting that the investigation is still in the early stages, Comey said “we have no indication that these killers are part of an organized, larger group or form part of a cell; there is no indication that they are part of a network.”
Previously, authorities had declined to refer to the killings definitively as a terrorist act, suggesting they might have been triggered by a workplace dispute.
While conceding that a lot of evidence in this case that “does not make sense,” Comey, speaking in Washington, said that a large volume of evidence prompted authorities to add the terror designation to the investigation.
“We are spending a tremendous amount of time trying to understand the motives of the killers and every detail of their lives,” the FBI director said.
Comey said the killers tried to destroy or conceal evidence by smashing electronic devices, but that investigators had been able to harvest considerable data from cellphones. Authorities say Farook was deleting information from such devices at least one day before the attack.
Comey also sought to allay widespread concerns across the country over the killings.
“We know this is very unsettling for the people of the United States, but we hope you will not let fear becoming disabling, but try to channel it into an awareness of your surroundings,” he said.
In a departure from comments earlier by the FBI in San Bernardino, Comey played down the possible importance of “telephonic connections” between the suspects and at least two subjects of earlier FBI investigations. Comey said that nothing about the contents of those communications elevated the California killers to the attention of the FBI prior to the attacks this week.
While there was no indication that the extremist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, directed the massacre in California, Malik’s Facebook posting, as described by U.S. officials, is the strongest link yet that the killings had terrorist roots.
The U.S. officials, who are not authorized to comment, said the posting that pledged support to al-Baghdadi was made under another name than Malik just before the shootings on Wednesday..
Al-Baghdadi, 44, became leader of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, in 2010. The group later spread into parts of Syria and in 2014 declared itself a caliphate, under the name Islamic State, with al-Baghdadi as the leader, or caliph.
As investigators delve into past travel, contacts and communications by the couple for clues to the shootings, family members say they are shocked and saw no sign that the American-born county health worker had been radicalized.
A search of a residential townhouse rented by the suspects turned up a staggering arsenal of firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a dozen pipe bombs and a virtual bomb-making factory, police say.
Farook had attended a holiday party Wednesday at the Inland Regional Center then left briefly, returning with his wife to open fire on the group of friends and co-workers. They wore masks and tactical clothing and carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The pair also left a primitive pipe bomb,which did not detonate, before returning to their rental house and its stockpile of weapons.
“Clearly they were equipped and they could have done another attack,” San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Thursday. “We intercepted them before that happened, obviously.”
Investigators are examining evidence from three locations: the Inland Regional Center, where the killings occurred, the rented townhouse in nearby Redlands, and the rented black SUV in which the couple was fleeing when they were intercepted and killed in a gunbattle with police.
The FBI said it had completed its investigation at the couple’s home, which was opened to the media Friday by the landlord.
The U.S.-born Farook worked as an environmental health specialist for San Bernardino County for five years, conducting health inspections. Farook’s coworkers describe him as pleasant, but none of the colleagues contacted remember a lot about him.
Malik, 27, was born in Pakistan, entering the U.S. on a fiancée visa in 2014, the FBI says. The pair apparently met online, while she was living abroad.
Federal officials note that Farook had visited Saudi Arabia several times, including a trip in 2013 for the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to complete at least once.
If he had become radicalized, his own family didn’t appear to detect it.
Farook’s brother in law, Farhan Kahn, expresses shock at the killings, calling the Farook he knew a “good religious person, just like a normal, anybody would be.”
Asked by NBC News if Farook was someone who had been radicalized, he says, “Not the person I know. He was not radical.”
He calls Farook simply a “bad person” for the attack, but says he has “no idea” what prompted it.
Nor does Farook’s sister Saira Khan. “I can never imagine my brother or my sister-in-law doing something like this. Especially because they were happily married, they had a beautiful 6-month-old daughter,” Khan, who is married to Farhan Khan, tells CBS News. “It’s just mind boggling why they would do something like this.”
When CBS reporter David Begnaud notes that people can’t fathom how a couple could drop off their infant in the morning then go out and commit murder, Saira responds, “Yeah, we can’t either,”
“It makes us very upset and angry that how could you leave a 6-month-old daughter,” Farhan adds. “And he put us in this predicament,” Saira says.
Authorities have been careful not to speculate as to whether the attack, which also left 21 people injured, was a terrorist act until the investigation is complete..
“We do not yet know the motive; we cannot rule anything out at this point,” said Bowdich. “We don’t know if this was the intended target or there was something that triggered him to do this immediately.”
Lawyers for the family tell CNN that the family didn’t know anything about Farook’s deadly stockpile of ammunition.
The family was “completely shocked” to find out about Farook’s involvement in the massacre, David S. Chesley, an attorney for Farook’s family, tells CNN.
He says family member had ever seen Farook with any of the weapons found at the townhouse. “They haven’t seen him with them, the pipe bomb, no one had ever seen him use or have anything like that.”
Nor did anyone in the family think that Farook had had any kind of training for such an assault. “This person was not aggressive,” Chesley says.
In Islamabad, Reuters quotes two Pakistani officials as saying Malik moved with her father to Saudi Arabia 25 years ago, returning home five or six years ago to study to become a pharmacist.
Javed Rabbani, one of Malik’s uncles who lives in the Pakistani capital, tells Reuters that Malik’s father, Gulzar, changed while the family was living in Saudi Arabia.
“When relatives visited him, they would come back and tell us how conservative and hard-line he had become,” Rabbani said in an interview with the news agency.
Christian Nwadike, a colleague who worked beside Farook for almost four year, tells CBS News that Farook was different after he returned from Saudi Arabia, where he went on a pilgrimage.
“Do you believe that he was radicalized?” Begnaud asks him.
“Yes, by the wife, I think he married a terrorist,” Nwadike says.
“He married a terrorist?”
“Yes, he was set up through that marriage,” Nwadike tells CBS News.
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