San Bernardino: The husband and wife behind last week’s shooting in California that left 14 people dead were radicalized for “quite some time”, and both went for target practice before the massacre, the FBI said Monday.
– Killer couple –
The December 2 attack in San Bernardino was executed by a married couple, parents of a six-month-old girl. The Federal Bureau of Investigation now says they had been radicalized “for quite some time.”
The assailants have been identified as Syed Farook, a 28-year-old US citizen who worked for the local county in environmental matters, and Tashfeen Malik, 29, a Pakistani national.
They were killed in a shootout with police hours after the attack.
The couple had left their infant daughter with Farook’s mother before the attack, according to a relative.
– 14 dead, 21 wounded –
Fourteen people were killed and 21 wounded when Farook and Malik opened fire inside the Inland Regional Center, a non-profit social services center in San Bernardino, California.
The attack took place inside a packed conference room rented by the county’s public health department for a year-end event, which Farook had been attending.
Authorities identified the victims as five women and nine men ranging in age from 26 to 60. All but two were county employees and co-workers of Farook’s.
– ‘Soldiers’ of caliphate –
On Saturday, the Islamic State group hailed the perpetrators without explicitly claiming the deadly attack.
In its English-language radio broadcast, IS referred to the assailants as “soldiers of the Khilafah” (caliphate) who were “killed in the path of Allah.”
In the group’s Arabic-language radio broadcast earlier in the day, however, it referred to the attackers simply as “supporters” of the Islamic State group.
Malik is believed to have pledged allegiance to the IS group in a Facebook post made under another name, around the time of the attack, according to media reports.
The FBI has confirmed it is looking into the supposed pledge.
– Investigating as ‘act of terrorism’ –
The FBI has said the mass shooting is now being investigated as an “act of terrorism” — a phrase used by President Barack Obama on Sunday to describe the killings, as he pledged to destroy the IS group and hunt down its followers.
“We have uncovered evidence that has led us to learn of extensive planning,” the assistant FBI director in charge of the Los Angeles office, David Bowdich, told reporters.
“There’s a number of pieces of evidence that has essentially pushed us off the cliff to say we are now investigating this as an act of terrorism.”
FBI Director James Comey said, however, that there was no indication the couple were “part of an organized larger group or part of a cell.”
Authorities had at first been looking into a work-related motive, following reports Farook may have snapped at his office party when a religious discussion got out of hand.
One witness said he left the event, leaving his jacket on his seat, and returned shortly afterwards heavily armed, dressed in black tactical gear and a mask — and accompanied by his wife.
– Pakistan, Saudi Arabia –
Investigators are looking into several foreign trips made by Farook prior to July 2014, according to the FBI.
He notably visited Saudi Arabia. Federal investigators have also suggested he traveled to Pakistan, but that is denied by the family’s lawyer.
His wife held a Pakistani passport and traveled to the United States on a K1 fiancee’s visa.
The couple is believed to have made a pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer of 2014, during which they married.
An uncle of Malik’s told AFP she was born in Pakistan but moved to Saudi Arabia around 1989.
– Heavily armed –
The couple were armed with assault rifles and handguns — all legally purchased. They fired dozens of rounds in the slaughter at the Inland Regional Center before fleeing in a black SUV.
Explosives rigged to a remote-controlled car were also found at the scene of the carnage, but the device failed to go off.
Police said 1,600 rounds of ammunition were found on the couple’s bodies and in their car following the police shootout in which they died.
About 5,000 additional rounds, more than a dozen pipe bombs and bomb-making material were found at the couple’s home.