California Gunman Was Radicalized, Contacted Terror Suspects

By Newsmax Wires   |   Thursday, 03 Dec 2015

Federal agents have discovered preliminary evidence that San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook was in contact by phone and social media with people who had been the subject of a terrorism probe by the FBI, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

With the FBI taking the lead, investigators are scrutinizing Farook’s online communications and phone records as they try to determine a motive for the attack at a social services center in the California city, according to unnamed officials cited by Bloomberg News and CNN. The officials requested anonymity to discuss an open criminal matter.

Authorities did not dismiss other issues — including that Farook had a workplace grievance — as additional motives.

Federal authorities were trying to determine a motive  for the Wednesday California massacre that killed 14 and wounded more than a dozen others even as more details emerged pointing to terrorism.

Wearing body armor and black tactical gear with GoPro cameras, Farook, 28, and wife Tashfeen Malik, 27, shot up a holiday party hosted by Farook's employer, the county health department.

The couple launched their attack at the Inland Regional Center about 60 miles east of Los Angeles around 11 a.m., opening fire in a conference area where county health officials were having an employee banquet, said Marybeth Feild, president and CEO of the nonprofit center. Farook attended the event before leaving — and returning to kill.

Authorities said each attacker carried an AR-15 rifle and a pistol, and their vests were stuffed with ammunition magazines. One of the weapons was capable of piercing body armor.

All of the guns were later determined to have been legally purchased, though not by the attackers. The assault rifles were bought by a third person who is not considered a suspect, according to a senior law enforcement official, The New York Times reports. 

They fled in a black SUV and hours later died in a gunbattle with police less than two miles away.

"They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission," San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said.

At a press conference Thursday, the chief said there is no doubt the shooting had 'some degree' of planning. "Nobody gets up and does this," he said, adding there were too many weapons, ammunition and other materials amassed for the mass shooting to be spontaneous.

According to authorities:

  • The couple had high-powered weapons, some could pierce body armor;
  • There were thousands of rounds found in the couple's home for their weapons, including 2,500 .223-caliber rounds;
  • There were three pipe bombs found and detonated in the building where the shooting occurred;
  • There were 'thousands' of tools in the home that could be used to make additional bombs;
  • The couple wore GoPro cameras and body armor, and had extra ammunition stuffed into clothing
  • A search of their home turned up 12 pipe bombs and explosives attached to remote controlled cars;
  • The black SUV where the couple died had been rented some days earlier.

As the FBI took over the investigation, authorities were trying to learn why the couple left behind their 6-month-old daughter and went on the rampage in this Southern California city of 214,000.

"There was obviously a mission here. 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," said David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI's Los Angeles office.

At the White House, President Barack Obama said after meeting with his national security team that it was "possible this was terrorist-related" but that authorities were unsure. He raised the possibility that it was a workplace dispute or that mixed motives were at play.

Law enforcement experts said investigators may well conclude the killers had more than one motivation.

Co-worker Patrick Baccari said he was sitting at the same table as Farook, who suddenly disappeared, leaving his coat on his chair. Baccari said when the shooting started, he sought refuge in a bathroom and suffered minor wounds from shrapnel slicing through the wall.

Baccari described Farook as reserved and said he showed no signs of unusual behavior. Earlier this year he traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with a wife, later growing a beard, Baccari said.

The FBI is investigating several possible motives, including workplace violence and terrorism, according to David Bowdich, assistant director of the bureau's Los Angeles office. He did not elaborate.

However, by Thursday morning, others were more definitive on the shooting's assessment. GOP candidate Ted Cruz said it was more than likely the shooting was terrorism.

President Barack Obama urged the country to take steps to reduce mass shootings, including stricter gun laws and stronger background checks.

"The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world," Obama told CBS.

Farook was born in the U.S. to a Pakistani family, was raised in Southern California and had been a San Bernardino County employee for five years, according to authorities and acquaintances. Authorities said Malik came to the U.S. on a Pakistani passport and a fiancee visa in July 2014.

The couple dropped off their 6-month-old daughter with relatives Wednesday morning, saying they had a doctor's appointment, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said after talking with family.

"We don't know the motives. Is it work, rage-related? Is it mental illness? Is it extreme ideology? At this point, it's really unknown to us, and at this point it's too soon to speculate," Ayloush said.

Co-workers told the Los Angeles Times that Farook was a devout Muslim but didn't talk about religion at work.

The imam at a mosque frequented by Farook said Thursday there was no indication he had been radicalized, but added that he had not seen the man for about three weeks.

"We never saw a sign of radicalization," Mahmood Nadvi, imam of the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah mosque in San Bernardino, told AFP a day after the bloodshed. "If someone becomes nuts, you don't represent the religion anymore."

Farhan Khan, who is married to Farook's sister, told reporters he last spoke to his brother-in-law about a week ago. He said he was in shock, condemned the violence, and had "absolutely no idea why he would do this."

In the morning, as the day's first bursts of gunfire echoed through the large three-building complex, some people locked themselves in offices, desperately waiting for police and texting or making hushed phone calls to loved ones.

"People shot. In the office waiting for cops. Pray for us. I am locked in an office," Terry Petit's daughter, who works at the center, texted him.

Petit choked back tears as he read his daughter's words for reporters outside the center, where social workers find jobs, housing and transportation and provide other services to people with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

Olivia Navarro said her daughter, Jamile Navarro, a case manager at the social service center, called her and whispered that she was hiding in a locked room.

"I said, 'All right, I'll be there, turn off the lights, don't make a sound,'" Navarro said. "And that was it."

Her daughter survived.

That the violence happened at a place dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities — even if they were not targeted — made it even harder for some to comprehend.

"These are all disabled kids, very disabled," said Sherry Esquerra, who was searching for her daughter and son-in-law, both of whom work at the center. "She gets all the services she possibly could for these kids. So I just don't understand why somebody would come in and start shooting."

According to its web page, the center has a client base of more than 30,000 people and their families. It is a privately run nonprofit, the largest of its kind in California with about 670 employees.

FBI agents and other law enforcement authorities converged on the center and searched room to room for the attackers. Triage units were set up outside, and people were wheeled away on stretchers.

Seventeen people were wounded, according to authorities. Ten were hospitalized in critical condition, and three were in serious condition, Fire Chief Tom Hannemann said.

Others were marched from the building, hands raised so police could search them and make sure the attackers weren't trying to slip out.

They had indeed escaped. One witness, Glenn Willwerth, who runs a business across the street, said he heard 10 to 15 shots and then saw an SUV with tinted windows pull out "very calmly, very slowly" and drive off.

As the manhunt dragged on, stores, office buildings and schools were locked down in the city, and roads blocked off.

With police looking for a dark SUV, officers staking out a home in the nearby city of Redlands saw a vehicle matching that description. Public records show the home is a possible residence of a family member of Farook.

Authorities pursued the SUV, and a gun battle erupted around 3 p.m. One officer among nearly two dozen involved in the shootout suffered a minor injury.

A fake bomb — a metal pipe stuffed with cloth — was thrown from the SUV during the chase, said Agent Meredith Davis of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A third person who was spotted running near the gun battle was detained, but Burguan said it was unclear if that person had anything to do with the crime. At a late-night news conference, Burguan also said that early witness accounts of three shooters were probably wrong: "We are reasonably confident at this point that we have two shooters and we have two dead suspects."

The social services center has two large buildings that require a badge to get in, said Sheela Stark, a member of its board of trustees. However, the conference room that hosts public events such as Wednesday's banquet is usually left open when visitors are expected.

 The Associated Press, Bloomberg, and AFP contributed to this report.

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