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FBI: San Bernardino Shooters Tashfeen Malik And Syed Farook Radicalized Years Before Marriage

Tashfeen Malik Syed Farook O'Hare July 2014

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 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mu says:

    Where’s the CIA in all of this? A US citizen discusses jihad with a foreign national in a foreign country, long enough to arrange getting married, and no one notices? And as they have the communications now, probably not via the Pakistani embassy’s diplomatic pouch, or via a highly encrypted channel. Either someone isn’t doing their job or “the FBI didn’t know about them” is a highly selective version of the truth.

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  2. Pch101 says:

    Someone might want to point out that we might able to find more Urdu and Arabic translators to work in intelligence if some folks didn’t insist on demonizing the religion of those who usually speak those languages.

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  3. Hal_10000 says:

    I wouldn’t write off the ISIS angle just yet. It’s one thing to discuss jihad and martyrdom in an abstract way. It’s another to actually make a plan, acquire weapons and launch an attack. Given that she pledged allegiance to ISIS, I would not be surprised if it comes out that the rise of ISIS and the belief that ISIS was the long-awaited caliphate inspired them to actually act on their plans. You often see that with religious nuts. They wait until some sign tells them it’s time to enact their plan. As an example, Heaven’s gate was around for a couple of decades before they committed mass suicide because of a comet.

    As for the intelligence side, I don’t know if there is anything short of mass violation of civil liberties that would prevent this sort of thing (and even then it might not). Two people communicating online is a needle in an ocean of haystacks. It’s easy to look back and say, “OK, these were the signs”. Much harder to do that in advance. But I suspect they will use this to try to squash encryption so that they can pursue more drug and tax prosecutions.

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  4. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Given that she pledged allegiance to ISIS, I would not be surprised if it comes out that the rise of ISIS and the belief that ISIS was the long-awaited caliphate inspired them to actually act on their plans.

    This is in accordance with IS doctrine and propaganda. Once their self-proclaimed caliphate was established, they gained the legitimacy and the duty to begin exporting terrorism.

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  5. Grewgills says:

    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.

    I hope that is the lesson most take from it, but I fear it won’t be.

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  6. John Peabody says:

    There are many uses in this post of the word, “radicalization”, like it was a switch that was triggered, and all we have to do is find who flipped the switch. Perhaps it wasn’t a radicalization at all…just their own realizations.

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  7. James Pearce says:

    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,

    We don’t know that yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NSA detected some questionable communications but couldn’t connect the dots because they’re looking at e-mails, not people going to gun ranges with AR-15s.

    We do, however, know that post-Snowden, Farook and his wife took steps to hide their digital tracks. Not sure that would have naturally occurred to some home-grown, amateur terrorists (ie, those not steeped in tradecraft).

    And I know there are some people still wedded to the idea that Snowden’s action were helpful, and hey…I’ve entertained that idea. I just wish Snowden’s supporters would entertain the idea that maybe he wasn’t such a hero after all.

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  8. humanoid.panda says:

    @Hal_10000:

    I wouldn’t write off the ISIS angle just yet. It’s one thing to discuss jihad and martyrdom in an abstract way. It’s another to actually make a plan, acquire weapons and launch an attack. Given that she pledged allegiance to ISIS, I would not be surprised if it comes out that the rise of ISIS and the belief that ISIS was the long-awaited caliphate inspired them to actually act on their plans. You often see that with religious nuts. They wait until some sign tells them it’s time to enact their plan.

    To cite Hillary’s famous Benghazi hearing line, are we sure this matters at all now? I mean, the key issue here is not that they were exposed to ISIS propaganda- as I am sure they were. The issue is that they seems to have stumbled into radicalism by themselves, were not in touch with any terror cells or supportive religious communities, got the money to what they did from a bank loan, and the guns from legal purchases. It seems to me that unless the US radically changes how it conducts business, the debate over ISIS or not is irrelevant- because people like them will always slip through the cracks in a free, and super well-armed, country.

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  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Hal_10000:

    But I suspect they will use this to try to squash encryption so that they can pursue more drug and tax prosecutions.

    Suspect no longer. Sen. Feinstein–who’s never met a domestic spying bill or operation she doesn’t like*–is at the ready.

    *Unless the spying was on her. IIRC she had an issue with that. Screw everyone else.

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  10. Slugger says:

    @Mu: Mu:
    Do you really want the agencies of state security to be that powerful? Powerful enough to monitor a conversation between any two people anywhere on earth?
    I don’t quite know what the term “radicalized ” means. Does it include thoughts and sympathies as well as actions?
    We are involved in a conflict with Sunni radicals that has led us to bomb their positions and launch drone strikes against their leaders. Surely, we have to expect them to land a punch on us now and then. However, we must not destroy ourselves in the effort to get them. I fear that the creation of a surveillance/police state would be very bad. The creation of a thought police state that monitors a conversation between suitors in Pakistan would be very bad.
    We have a very good system, not perfect but pretty darn good. We are right to expect some to die in order to preserve our system which includes innocent civilians. After all, hitting a Doctors without Borders hospital is not going to stop our bombing efforts in that corner of the world. We will lose some battles and suffer some casualties, but I still think that we need to stay calm and true to our ideas.

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  11. C. Clavin says:

    Robert Dear, in a court appearance today, said;

    “I am guilty, there will be no trial…I am a warrior for the babies.”

    We are at war with white christian males.

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  12. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin: I am a warrior for the babies.”

    We are at war with white christian males.

    So your thoughts are that you are at war with individuals who fight for the lives of babies? Also, that non-white, non-christian citizens are supporters of baby killing and parting out?

    And upon what are you basing your determination that Dear is a Christian?

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  13. Pch101 says:

    @JKB:

    If you think that a fetus is a baby, then put one in a stroller, take it out in public, and see how everyone reacts.

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  14. Grewgills says:

    @JKB:

    And upon what are you basing your determination that Dear is a Christian?

    He is a self professed christian, just like the San Bernardino shooters are self professed muslims. Why would you believe one and not the other?

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  15. Guarneri says:

    “Two people communicating online is a needle in an ocean of haystacks. It’s easy to look back and say, “OK, these were the signs”. Much harder to do that in advance. ”

    But….but…but. The translators! What about the translators?!

    I just want to go on record that I have complete faith in the vetting process, and monitoring. So,open up the immigration floodgates. Because that’s who we are. As for the 14 dead. Bah. Probably would have died in lightening strikes, car wrecks and grizzly bear attacks this weekend anyway….

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  16. Guarneri says:

    http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/220141.php

    For those numerically and analytically challenged.

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  17. Todd says:

    And in the normal stupid American way, we are currently providing an environment ripe for the “radicalization” of more people. Hell, I’m a white, middle class male, and all the racist, xenophobic BS flying around lately pisses me off. I can’t imagine what it must be like right now to be a Muslim in this country. Even with the events in San Bernardino, most of white America’s fear is still quite irrational … although not coincidentally, many of these same people were sure at this time last year that we’d all be dead from Ebola by now. On the flip side, sadly, I think if many Muslims are currently fearful for the safety of the themselves and their families, they have good reason. Just wait until one of these hyped up angry “Trumptards” kills or seriously injures someone’s wife or kids simply because of the way they were dressed or looked.

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  18. Matt says:

    @Todd: Well I can tell you that the local mosque keeps receiving death threats. I can also tell you a couple of my Muslim friends (female) have been threatened with murder rape and more via online. One case of a death threat was in person but I couldn’t confirm it as unlike the online messages there was no evidence to backup the story. Apparently wearing a head scarf is no different from wearing a full on burka to bigots.

    I really feel for the Sikhs though as their religion’s dictates insure the various towel-head comments.

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  19. Bill Lefrak says:

    This news is about as surprising as high poverty, unemployment, murder and dropout rates in Chicago.

    Look, if even for a nanosecond you actually believed the “workplace violence” meme the liberal idiot media first threw out there, then you’re probably too retarded to be reading this. Or not.

    Lax visa and other immigration standards have consequences. Not taking no brainer measures to protects ourselves, so as not to offend the PC crowd, have consequences. Leftism is a severe mental disorder and leftism as policy, especially related to national security, is a national suicide pact.

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