Crime & Justice

FBI: San Bernardino shooters radicalized at least 2 years ago

FBI Director James Comey says Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Rizwan Farook, were radicalized at least two years ago and had discussed jihad and martyrdom even before they met online. They killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015. They are seen here in photos provided by the FBI, left, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

FBI Director James Comey says the two San Bernardino shooters were radicalized at least two years ago and had discussed jihad and martyrdom as early as 2013.
FBI Director James Comey says Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Rizwan Farook, were radicalized at least two years ago and had discussed jihad and martyrdom even before they met online. They killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015. They are seen here in photos provided by the FBI, left, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles. FBI Director James Comey says the two San Bernardino shooters were radicalized at least two years ago and had discussed jihad and martyrdom as early as 2013.
/AP

The FBI's director says investigators believe the couple who carried out the San Bernardino shootings had discussed jihad and martyrdom as early as 2013, a year before they got married. On Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the two were clearly inspired by a foreign terror organization, but investigators don't know whether their online courtship was arranged by such a group or developed naturally on its own. They killed 14 and injured another 21 in a shooting at a gathering of San Bernardino County Health Department employees on Wednesday, Dec. 2.

Updates

Update 2:25 p.m. Father of California shooter condemns daughter's action

The father of a woman who helped carry out the San Bernardino mass shooting said Wednesday that he condemns and regrets his daughter's action and the deaths of 14 people.

Gulzar Ahmad Malik spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, saying he is "very, very sad."

"I am in such pain that I cannot even describe it," Gulzar Ahmad Malik said. "Whatever God does only he knows better, and only God knows why did it happen."

He said he gave a statement to Saudi intelligence and would not comment further.

— AP

Update 12:15 p.m. OC Register: Gun buyer, Farook's brother married to Russian sisters

The Orange County Register, citing Riverside County marriage records, reports:

"In November 2014, Enrique Marquez — whom the ATF says purchased the semi-automatic rifles used in last week's shooting in San Bernardino — married a woman from Russia, Mariya Chernykh, 25, who is the younger sister of the wife of Syed Rizwan Farook's older brother."

The certificate says Marquez and Chernykh lived in a townhouse in Corona owned by the Farook brother, Syed Raheel Farook, 30, who is listed as a witness at Marquez's wedding, according to the OC Register.

It also reports that records show that a little more than a year earlier, Marquez and the shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook, were witnesses at the wedding of Chernykh's sister, Titiana Gigliotti, 31, and Raheel Farook.

Also related to Marquez, the Register reports:

"He started visiting an Inland mosque, the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco, shortly after he converted around the age of 17 or 18, said Azmi Hason, the mosque manager. Marquez came to the place of worship for Friday prayers about twice a month because its location was convenient, Hason said. At the time, he worked for a security company that had an office in Corona. He worked as a security guard and greeter at Wal-Mart, a neighbor said."

Update 11:30 a.m. FBI: San Bernardino shooters radicalized at least 2 years ago

The two San Bernardino shooters were radicalized at least two years ago — a year before one of them came to the U.S. on a fiancée visa — and discussed jihad and martyrdom as early as 2013, FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday.

Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee investigators believe that Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were radicalized even before they began their online relationship and that Malik held extremist views before she arrived in the U.S. last year.

The comments suggest that the government's vetting process apparently failed to detect Malik's radicalization when she applied for the visa. Comey said he didn't know enough to say whether weaknesses in the visa process enabled her to enter the U.S.

Reached in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Malik's father condemned his daughter's actions and said he is "very, very sad... I am in such pain that I cannot even describe it."

Gulzar Ahmed Malik has been a resident in the kingdom since the early 1980s, the Saudi Interior Ministry says. His daughter was from Pakistan but traveled to Saudi Arabia. A former classmate, Afsheen Butt, said Malik showed drastic changes after a trip to Saudi Arabia in late 2008 or early 2009.

Malik came to the United States in July 2014 from Pakistan after being approved for a K-1, or fiancée visa. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said the Obama administration is now reviewing the program. He did not say what changes were being considered.

Malik married Farook the following month. Farook was born in Chicago in 1987 and raised in southern California.

FBI officials had previously said that the couple had been radicalized for "quite some time," but the disclosure Wednesday was the most specific yet about the timeline of their relationship and progression toward extremism.

Comey said the two "as early as the end of 2013 were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and married and were living in the U.S." He said the couple was clearly inspired by a foreign terror organization, but that investigators did not yet know whether their online courtship was arranged by such a group or developed naturally on its own.

"It would be a very, very important thing to know," he said.

The FBI director described the couple as an example of homegrown violent extremists who appear to have radicalized "in place," drawing a distinction between the San Bernardino attack and the one last month in Paris that officials suspect involved planning and training in Syria.

While evidence shows that the couple was "at least in part inspired" by the Islamic State, Comey said officials had not ruled out other sources of inspiration in part because the radicalization process took place before the terror group had become the global presence that it is today.

"We're trying to sort out what other contributions there may have been to their motivation. At least in part, we see an ISIL inspiration," Comey said, using an acronym from the terror group.

He also declined to say what role, if any, encrypted communications played in last week's massacre.

Comey said he remained concerned that criminals, terrorists and spies were using technology to evade detection. "Increasingly, we are unable to see what they say, which gives them a tremendous advantage," he said.

For example, Comey said one of the gunmen in last May's shooting outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas had exchanged more than 100 messages with an overseas suspected terrorist prior to the attack that investigators still had been unable to access.

"We have no idea what he said because those messages were encrypted," Comey said. "And to this day, I can't tell you what he said with that terrorist 109 times the morning of that attack. That is a big problem. We have to grapple with it."

The FBI has revealed little else of what it's learned about Farook and Malik and their planning, except for details about the weaponry they had, materials they had to make more pipe bombs and that both had been taking target practice.

America's counterterrorism infrastructure has had success flagging individuals who try to travel abroad to fight alongside militants, fund operations overseas or who communicate online with overseas terrorists. But it's been far more challenging for law enforcement to identify each individual who self-radicalizes online.

— Associated Press

These posts have been updated.