FBI Investigators Say California Killers Were Long Time Radicalized Muslims
CALIFORNIA, USA – The couple Muslim Couple who carried out the deadly attack that killed 14 people here last week had long been radicalized and had been practicing at a target range days before their murder spree, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday.
The characterization of the husband and wife team, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, came as F.B.I. investigators were leaning away from the theory that Ms. Malik, who declared allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook around the time of the attack, had led her American-born husband to the violence.
“As the investigation has progressed, we have learned and believe that both subjects were radicalized and have been for quite some time,” David Bowdich, the F.B.I. assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles field office, said at a news conference here. The authorities said they now had evidence that there was extensive planning for the attack. Mr. Bowdich said the couple honed their shooting skills at ranges across the Los Angeles region, including one near where the attack took place here in San Bernardino County.
Pipes for Bombs and Target Practice
The F.B.I. said both assailants in the California shooting had been radicalized, had considerable material for bombs in their home and had recently had target practice at a shooting range.
“That target practice in one occasion happened within days of this event,” he said.
With the investigation sprawling from California to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the exact motives of Mr. Farook, 28, and Ms. Malik, 29, have not been identified. But in recent days a fuller picture of the couple has emerged as the F.B.I. and other American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have gained greater access to their electronics and phone records, and as more interviews have been conducted with family members, friends, co-workers and other associates.
Investigators say they have learned through interviews with people who knew Mr. Farook for several years that he had militant views before he met Ms. Malik online and married her in Saudi Arabia.
“At first it seemed very black and white to us that he changed radically when he met her,” said one of the officials who declined to be identified because of the continuing investigation. “But it’s become clear that he was that way before he met her.”
At the news conference, Mr. Bowdich said that at this point, the authorities did not believe that forces beyond the nation’s borders had been involved in orchestrating the attack.
“I want to be crystal clear here — we do not see any evidence so far of a plot outside the continental U.S.,” he said. “We may find it someday, we may not; we don’t know. But right now we’re looking at these two individuals.”
He said that the F.B.I. had interviewed 400 people, and he asked for patience from the public as the agency seeks to untangle the origins and motivations of the attack on the Inland Regional Center, which also wounded 21 people. He said that the F.B.I. was still building profiles of the suspects and of the people around them. “That takes time,” he said. “This is Day 5.”
After the attack last week, the F.B.I. arrived with a search warrant and took video surveillance footage at the Riverside Magnum Range near San Bernardino, where Mr. Farook practiced firing. John Galletta, a firearms instructor at the range, confirmed that Mr. Farook had visited, but he did not say if he had been coming regularly. Mr. Galletta said he had not seen Mr. Farook’s wife at the range. A fuller portrait of Ms. Malik emerged in Pakistan, where she completed a degree in pharmacology at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan.
Ms. Malik also spent a year studying at an Al-Huda center, a conservative religious school for women in Multan, a city in central Pakistan, officials said Monday. Officials at the center said she enrolled in an 18-month course to study the Quran in 2013, just as she completed her degree at Bahauddin Zakariya. But she left before finishing the course, telling administrators she was getting married.
Farrukh Chaudhry, a spokeswoman for Al-Huda, an international chain of religious schools geared toward educated and often affluent women, said that Ms. Malik stopped her studies with the group in May 2014. A few months later, she was granted a K-1 visa, known as a “fiancé visa,” that enabled her to travel to the United States, according to American officials.
Critics in Pakistan have long said that Al-Huda, which urges women to cover their faces and to study the Quran, spreads a more conservative strain of Islam. But it has never been directly linked to jihadist violence.
Still, confirmation that Ms. Malik had studied with the group offers a new clue to the years before she left Pakistan for the United States. At Al-Huda’s office in an upmarket residential neighborhood, a coordinator, Alia Qamar, described her as a typical student.
“She said she was leaving to get married,” said Ms. Qamar, who wore a black niqab that exposed only her eyes. “Had she completed our course, I’m sure nothing like this would have happened.”
Ms. Qamar said she believed Ms. Malik started at the school in 2012. But Ms. Chaudhry, who spoke by phone from Karachi, said that records indicated that Ms. Malik enrolled with Al-Huda on April 17, 2013, and left on May 3, 2014.
Ms. Malik and fellow students studied and interpreted the Quran — a typical line of study at Al-Huda, which focuses heavily on Islamic scripture. “Quran for all; in every hand, every heart,” reads the slogan on the group’s website. Before leaving in May 2014, Ms. Malik had requested information about completing her studies by correspondence, Ms. Chaudhry added. “We sent her the documents by email, but never heard back,” she said.
Al-Huda, founded in 1994, sometimes draws women who turn to the group after their children have grown up, sometimes causing friction in their families as less pious members complain of being pressured to conform with a more conservative family lifestyle.
“They are trained to be activists and reformers, bringing people back to what they call the ‘real’ Islam, true and pure,” said Faiza Mushtaq, an assistant professor of sociology at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, whose Ph.D. study focused on Al-Huda.
The group also provides charitable services like education scholarships and a marriage bureau to help religious parents find suitable spouses for their children.
The organization’s founder, Farhat Hashmi, is based in Canada, but she has a large following in Pakistan, which has grown partly through the use of social media. Officials with the group emphasize that while it is conservative, it has no links to violence. Critics largely accept that idea, while countering that the group may foster a dangerously narrow mind-set.
“Religious conservatism and piety are not the only thing institutions like Al-Huda spread,” said Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States now at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. “Their teachings have a strong dose of ‘Muslims are destined to lead the world’ and ‘the corrupt West must be confronted.’ ”
Still, Al-Huda’s worldview does not explain Ms. Malik’s transformation into a killer, Ms. Mushtaq, the sociologist, said.
“Yes, Al-Huda teaches women to be narrow and doctrinaire,” she said. “But there’s little in the classroom that explains why a woman like Tashfeen Malik would take up arms.”
“Whatever Tashfeen Malik allegedly did is an individual act,” said Ms. Chaudhry, the spokeswoman. “We have nothing to do with it.”
Similar questions were being considered in Southern California, where the F.B.I. said the top goal of the investigation was to determine how Ms. Malik and Mr. Farook became radicalized.
“The question we are trying to get at is how did that happen and by whom, and where did it happen,” Mr. Bowdich said. The federal authorities also disclosed that investigators had recovered 19 types of pipes in the couple’s home that could have been made into bombs, an increase from the 12 earlier identified.
John E. D’Angelo, the special assistant agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that Mr. Farook used his name to legally buy three of the guns seized after the attack. Two other weapons were bought by Enrique Marquez, a former neighbor of his family in Riverside.
Officials said they were investigating how Mr. Farook ended up with the guns. Mr. Bowdich declined to say if Mr. Marquez, whose home has been searched twice in recent days by federal agents, was a suspect.
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