Yesterday we watched the terrible events unfold in San Bernardino, California and the common question among the various news organizations was what kind of person would carry out this kind of attack. I was at the helm of TTAG’s coverage yesterday and despite some prodding from the other editors I resisted posting what little information we had about the shooting suspects until we had a more complete picture of what actually happened — the very last thing I wanted was a repeat of the confusion following the Sandy Hook attacks, and posting names without context allows rampant speculation to fill the void instead of facts. Twenty four hours later the investigation has uncovered enough information that we can start piecing together the different parts of the puzzle with greater clarity, and the picture that is starting to emerge appears to be one of a pre-planned terrorist attack perpetrated by a “radicalized” couple . . .
The names of the suspected attackers have been released as Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik.
Syed was an American citizen, born in the United States, who had worked as an “environmental specialist” for the San Bernardino County health department for the last five years. Born and raised a Muslim, his history didn’t immediately raise any red flags with his friends and family but his relationship with his wife appears to have changed all that.
Tashfeen Malik was a Pakistani national who was in the country on a K-1 visa — a document issued to the fiance of an American citizen to allow them to enter the country but does not provide citizenship. She had married Syed two years ago and the couple had a six month old child together. Syed’s coworkers at the health department threw them a baby shower when they were first expecting.
The portrait that investigators are painting is one of an increasing “radicalization” of the couple. The common speculation is that Tashfeen greatly influenced Syed’s behavior and caused him to be increasingly radicalized. Government officials state that Syed had been in contact with people who were known or suspected terrorists in recent years, and may have been in direct contact with overseas terrorists during his 2014 trip to Saudi Arabia.
Following this “radicalization” the couple appears to have started preparing for a terrorist attack of some sort. There’s evidence that the couple had what is described as a “bomb making facility” in their garage, complete with pipe bombs armed with simple fuses (the kind of thing that can be assembled from store-bought items and online schematics). They also purchased two AR-15 rifles — one DPMS and one Smith & Wesson M&P-15, two of the cheapest and most widely available modern firearms on the market. Reports also indicate that two handguns were recovered of unknown make and model. Investigators have said that two of these guns were “traced” back to legal purchases although which specific firearms had been traced was not disclosed.
The weapons found (specifically the pipe bombs) indicate that the couple was preparing for a mass casualty attack of some sort in the future. What is not known is whether this particular event was their first choice of target. The fact that they did not use all of their weapons at the event indicate that the attack may have been thrown together at the last moment rather than carefully planned.
It appears that this was another in a long string of terrorist attacks focused on western countries like the European Union and the United States. There do not appear to be any groups specifically claiming responsibility at this time which indicates that this may simply be a “lone wolf” attack based on the same ideology instead of a coordinated attack directed from overseas. This would seem to contradict President Obama’s protestations that America is safe from a Paris style attack, and the patent illegality of the firearms used (according to California state law) seems to support the idea that stricter gun control laws would have had no impact on stopping this latest terrorist attack.