The FBI is investigating whether Syed Rizwan Farook and a neighbor intended to commit an act of terror in about 2012 and then got spooked, a senior law enforcement official said Wednesday. The two men may have been disrupted when the FBI arrested several men in late 2012 in a separate plot to kill Americans in Afghanistan.
In addition, Farook and his wife, who killed 14 people in San Bernardino last week, had discussed 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.
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.
Comey was critical of anti-Muslim rhetoric, saying that it was not helpful when law enforcement officials are trying to work with communities in the United States to combat terrorism. He said that for the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations, it was part of their strategy to persuade Muslims that the United States is hostile to them.
The GOP presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, drew international criticism this week for his call to ban all Muslims from the United States following the San Bernardino shooting and the attacks in Paris last month.
The FBI is trying to determine if there’s any connection between an earlier potential plot by Farook and his neighbor and the arrests in 2012 of four men in Riverside, Calif. The men were charged with plotting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Two of the men were later found guilty and two pleaded guilty. The FBI dubbed the investigation “Broken Banner.”
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.
In the days since the attack, Farook has been described as a bright student during his childhood in California. As an adult, those who knew him said, he was a devout Muslim, quiet and private.
Farook brought Malik to the United States on a fiancee visa in July 2014. But friends said they knew little about Farook’s wife, and many weren’t even aware that the couple had a daughter born in May 2015; their baby was placed in the custody of child protective services after the attack.
Relatively little is known about Malik, who was born in Pakistan but spent at least some time in Saudi Arabia, where her father relocated more than two decades ago. It remains unclear how much time she spent in Saudi Arabia, but she is known to have studied in Pakistan to become a pharmacist.
After arriving in the United States, Malik seems to have interacted with very few people. Even male relatives said they had never seen her face, which was typically covered by a niqab, or face veil, used by some Muslim women.
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.
Whatever the roots of their beliefs, the couple had prepared carefully for the attack, Bowdich said during the news conference Monday, visiting local shooting ranges to practice their aim as recently as a few days before the massacre.
John Galletta, a shooting instructor the Riverside Magnum Range, said that Farook had come to the range with an AR-15 rifle on the Sunday and Monday before the attacks took place.
Galletta did not personally see Farook, who came alone, but other staff at the range did.
“It was very brief,” Galletta said. “He was there; he shot his gun.”
Staff at the range did not recall having seen Farook before that, Galletta said. Riverside Magnum is small shooting range in a strip mall just off a freeway. The range allows both pistols and rifles, however, rifle shooting — of the likes Farook had — is for members of the range only.
Galletta said the range gave authorities the security footage.
“We had no idea he was there until they came,” he said, referring to the FBI.
Missy Ryan and Abby Phillip in San Bernardino and Julie Tate and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.
[This story has been updated. First published: 10:56 a.m.]