Syed Rizwan Farook — one-half of the couple behind the San Bernardino shooting massacre — was apparently radicalized and in touch with people being investigated by the FBI for international terrorism, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Farook’s apparent radicalization contributed to his role in the mass shooting, with his wife Tashfeen Malik, of 14 people on Wednesday during a holiday party for the San Bernardino County health department, where Farook worked, sources said.
Still, it wasn’t necessarily the only driver behind the carnage as workplace grievances may have also played a role. President Barack Obama hinted as much Thursday when he said that the attackers may have had “mixed motives.”
Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia for several weeks in 2013 on the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime, which didn’t raise red flags, said two government officials. It was during this trip that he met Malik, a native of Pakistan who came to the United States on a “fiancée visa” and later became a lawful permanent resident.
Officials had previously said that neither Farook and Malik were known to the FBI or on a list of potentially radicalized people. Nor had they had any known interactions with police until Wednesday’s deadly shootout that culminated in their deaths.
Yet Farook himself had communicated by phone and via social media with more than one person being investigated for terrorism, law enforcement officials said. A separate U.S. government official said the 28-year-old has “overseas communications and associations.”
As to what role those all played in the San Bernardino carnage, the official acknowledged, ” We don’t know yet what they mean.”
Added Bowdich, from the FBI: “That is the big question for us: What is the motivation for this?”
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan echoed that sentiment, while adding that whatever led the two to launch Wednesday’s assault, they could have killed more had they survived. He pointed to the discovery of hundreds of rounds of ammunition in their rented black SUV as well as in their apartment.
Authorities also found 12 pipe bombs there, as well as hundreds of tools that “could be used to construct IEDs or pipe bombs,” the chief said.
“If you look at the amount of obvious pre-planning that went in, the amount of armaments (they) had, the weapons and the ammunition, there was obviously a mission here,” added Bowdich. “We know that. We do not know why.
“We don’t know if this was the intended target or if there was something that triggered him to do this immediately. We just don’t know.”
The nightmare began at Wednesday’s holiday party, which San Bernardino’s police chief said that Farook had left abruptly “under circumstances that were described as angry.”
He and his wife returned around 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET) dressed in “black … tactical gear” and heavily armed. Each had a semiautomatic rifle and a handgun. Then they opened fire, unloading 65 to 75 rounds.
The couple then slipped out the door and into a SUV, which they’d rented locally and had Utah plates.
By then, officers had arrived and began chasing a number of leads. One of them led them to Farook, after another person at the party at Inland Regional Center expressed “some concern over his behavior,” Burguan said Thursday.