San Bernardino shooter was a Pakistani who became known as a ‘Saudi girl’ – Los Angeles Times

Nisma Rafiq, a Saudi-born woman of Pakistani origin who attended the same high school as Malik, said going home can be challenging. She faced taunts when she went to Pakistan for college, she said.

“We go to Pakistan and they call us ‘Saudi girls,'” she said. “You are judged by your family. They say you’re not the same.”

Malik graduated and returned to Pakistan around 2005, Abid said. Family members who greeted her in Punjab saw a young woman clearly changed.

Although relatives in Karor Lal Esan had remembered her as a “modern girl,” she now covered her face in a veil. She spoke Arabic — unlike many Pakistani expatriates — and occasionally would have conversations in Arabic online late at night, one relative said.

In 2007, Malik enrolled in the pharmacology program at Bahauddin Zakariya University, one of the most competitive in Punjab. Located in Multan, a bustling city renowned for its Sufi shrines, the private institution bills itself as “a progressive university.” Many female faculty members don’t cover their hair. In the pharmacology program that included several hundred female students, Malik was in a minority of about 10% who wore a veil, a professor recalled.

“I never knew what she looked like,” said Nazar Mohammad Ranjha, a lecturer who taught Malik in 2007. “The first time I saw her face was on CNN.”

She lived at a house her father owned in Multan’s Babar Colony, a neighborhood of law offices and single-family homes. On campus, she studiously avoided contact with male students and had few close friends, classmates said. But that did not stop her from taking note of romantic relationships among her peers.

When classmates discussed fashion and boys, she chimed in with the latest gossip in her familiar loud, nasal voice, said one female student who knew her.

“We used to discuss our classmates’ love affairs, and she had more information than any of us,” said the student, who did not want to be named discussing Malik. “She used to laugh loudly. We used to make fun of her voice, but she never complained about it.”

In the department, “everyone knew she was from Saudi Arabia,” said a professor, Nisar Hussain.

“She was religious, but a very normal person as well,” Hussain said. “She was a very hardworking and submissive student.”

In her spare time, she was throwing herself deeper and deeper into conservative Islam.

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Multan, now a city of 3 million in southern Punjab, is known for towering, blue-tiled shrines to saints of Sufism, a mystical Islamic order that eschews violence. But in recent decades, the city and surrounding province, the most populous in Pakistan, have seen the growing influence of conservative Islamic schools, known as madrassas, and militant organizations.

In mid-2013, alongside her pharmacology studies, Malik began attending classes at Al Huda, a chain of modern madrassas that cater to upper-class urban women. Classmates said she was there almost every day, although she didn’t discuss what she was learning.

The institute teaches a deeply conservative strain of Islam, preaching that wives should obey their husbands. Al Huda’s founder, Farhat Hashmi, promotes anti-Western conspiracy theories and has argued that Osama bin Laden was “a warrior.”

Many students bring the institute’s teachings home with them, intending to indoctrinate other women in their family, analysts say. A relative of Malik’s in Karor Lal Esan, who asked not to be identified, said that toward the end of her university days, Malik “started asking women in the family and the locality to become good Muslims.”

From 2011 to early 2013, protests frequently erupted in Multan over U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt, with demonstrators setting fire to likenesses of the American flag.

In March 2013, while Malik was a student at the university, Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer in the English department, was accused of making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad. Hafeez was jailed on blasphemy charges, and a year later, two men walked into his lawyer’s office in Multan and shot and killed him.

“The university does have a liberal leaning, which makes one believe that any extremist influence on Malik — religious or otherwise — may have taken place before or on the side of her university studies,” said Fahd Humayun, research manager at the nonprofit Jinnah Institute think tank in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

But Pakistan was growing more unstable while Malik was there, Humayun said, “and Multan is not an exception.”

Saudi officials say immigration records show Malik visited from Pakistan in July 2008 and again in 2013. On the second trip, Saudi officials say, her stay in the country overlapped for about six days with that of Syed Rizwan Farook, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent who was there on hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The following year, she would join Farook in the United States.

She would become his wife, the mother of his child, his partner in death.

Bengali reported from Mumbai, India, and Linthicum from Riyadh. Special correspondent Aoun Sahi in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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