U.S. Authorities Look For Militant Links To Shooters In California Mass Slaying
By Tim Reid and Lisa Baertlein
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (Reuters) — The couple accused of killing 14 people at a holiday party in Southern California had more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a dozen pipe bombs on them and elsewhere, authorities said on Thursday as they sought to determine if the pair had links to Islamic militant groups.
Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, who was described as his wife and mother of his 6-month-old daughter, were killed in a shootout with police five hours after Wednesday’s massacre at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in the city of San Bernardino. Twenty-one people were wounded in the shooting.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a Thursday news conference that a search of a townhouse in nearby Redlands believed used by Farook and Malik yielded flash drives, computers and cellphones.
Officials in Washington familiar with the investigation said so far there was no hard evidence of a direct connection between the shooters and any militant group abroad but that the electronics would be checked to see if the couple had been browsing on jihadist websites or social media.
CNN, citing law enforcement sources, said Farook had been “radicalized” and had been in touch through telephone and social media with more than one international terrorism suspect who was being investigated by the FBI.
Farook, a U.S. citizen, was born in Illinois, the son of Pakistani immigrants, according to Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Los Angeles area chapter of the Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Malik had been granted a “fiancee visa” to come to the United States with Farook and that all applicants for the visa are fully screened.
Witnesses said Farook had been at the holiday party, left – possibly after a dispute with someone – returned with Malik and opened fire. Burguan said they sprayed the room with 65 to 70 rounds.
Officials from President Barack Obama to Burguan said the attack may have been an act of terrorism but a motive had not yet been determined.
“It is possible that this was terrorist-related. But we don’t know,” Obama told reporters. “It is also possible that this was workplace-related.”
He said the FBI was taking over the investigation.
David Bowdich, the FBI assistant director in Los Angeles, said the couple had entered the United States in July 2014 after a trip that included Pakistan and perhaps other countries. Farook did not have a criminal record, Burguan said.
MORE WEAPONS, BOMB-MAKING EQUIPMENT AT HOUSE
Burguan said the couple had two assault-style rifles, two handguns and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in their vehicle when they were killed. At the townhouse, police found another 4,500 rounds, 12 pipe bombs and bomb-making equipment.
The guns were legally purchased in the United States, said Meredith Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Two of them were purchased by someone “associated with this investigation,” while the buyer of the other two was not linked to the investigation, she said.
In addition to sparking further debate on gun control laws, the latest mass slaying in the United States came with much of the world on edge following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris by Islamic State militants that killed 130 people.
Ayloush appealed to the public not to jump to conclusions about the motives behind the San Bernardino attack. He said he was concerned about a backlash against the broader Muslim community in view of the rise of Islamic State and some opposition among politicians and the public in the United States over U.S. plans to accept Syrian war refugees.
“We’re living in a very difficult time,” he told CNN. “There’s a lot of Islamophobia out there, a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, fueled by pundits here and there trying to blame a whole community for the acts of a few.”
Nizaam Ali, a 23-year-old college student who said he knew Farook from mosque, said Farook prayed two to three times a week during his lunch break at the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah of America mosque in San Bernardino. Ali said he had not seen any signs of radicalization or extremism.
Farook told Ali that he married his wife, whom he met online, in July 2014. Ali added that Farook’s wife wore the niqab, a scarf that covers most of the face, which was something Farook had mentioned he liked about her.
OBAMA REITERATES CALL FOR GUN LAW REFORM
The San Bernardino rampage was the deadliest U.S. shooting incident since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which 27 people, including the gunman, were killed.
There have been more than 350 shootings this year in which four or more people were wounded or killed in the United States, according to the crowd-sourced website shootingtracker.com, which keeps a running tally of U.S. gun violence.
“I don’t think any community is immune,” San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis told CBS. “Certainly, we don’t anticipate that kind of thing happening here. It was a shock.”
Davis, whose largely working-class city is 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles, said on Twitter he had a “heartfelt conversation” about the killings with Obama, who used the incident to make another call for gun law reform to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings.
“We’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take the basic steps that would make it harder – not impossible but harder – for individuals to get access to weapons,” Obama said at the White House.
He ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in memory of the shooting victims.
Ten people remained hospitalized at two hospitals on Thursday – two in critical but stable condition, three in fair condition and five in stable condition, the hospitals said.
(Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Mark Hosenball, Susan Heavey Megan Cassella, Julia Edwards, Doina Chiacu, Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton in Washington and Lisa Richwine and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)
Photo: FBI and police investigator are seen around a vehicle in which two suspects were shot following a mass shooting in San Bernardino California