In address to nation, Obama to outline plan to fight terrorism and Islamic State

With the San Bernardino massacre prompting new concerns about homeland security, President Obama will deliver a rare prime-time address from the Oval Office on Sunday to outline his administration's plans to combat terrorism and defeat Islamic State.

The speech also will provide an update on the federal investigation into Wednesday's attack that killed 14 people at a holiday party at a San Bernardino conference center and will “discuss the broader threat of terrorism — including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved, and how we will defeat it,” according to the White House.

The FBI is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism apparently inspired by the extremist group.

Obama's address comes amid growing criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats about his policies for combating terrorism and dealing with Syria's civil war, especially after last month's coordinated Islamic State attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

San Bernardino is one of several attacks in recent years, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, that appear to involve “lone wolf” assailants in the United States who are inspired by terrorist groups but act independently. Experts say such cases pose a particular problem for authorities because the attackers are already in this country and are more difficult to detect than terrorists coming here from abroad.

Since taking office in 2009, Obama has only addressed the nation twice from the Oval Office, the symbol of White House power. The most recent was Aug. 31, 2010, when he announced the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq in keeping with his campaign promise to end the war there.

Five years later, that speech appears a bittersweet moment in history.

Over the last year and a half, Obama has sent about 3,500 troops back to Iraq to train and advise local security forces in the fight against Islamic State.

He is under intense pressure to further escalate the effort to break a yearlong military stalemate with the group, which continues to control vast amounts of territory, including key cities, in Iraq and Syria.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has announced that about 200 more special operations troops would be sent to Iraq to conduct raids and help step up airstrikes.

Although the militants have lost ground in recent months due to counterattacks and intense bombing, they have expanded their global reach by conducting a deadly attack in Paris, downing a Russian passenger jet over Egypt and building up a new stronghold in Libya.

In the fiercely contested 2016 presidential race, Republican candidates have excoriated Obama's counter-terrorism efforts as weak and ineffective, and called for stopping or restricting immigration into the U.S. of Syrian refugees and others.

In a statement announcing the speech, set for 8 p.m. Eastern time, the White House said Obama will seek to reassure the public that the government is taking effective steps to ensure the nation's safety.

“The president will also discuss the broader threat of terrorism, including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved, and how we will defeat it,” the White House said. “He will reiterate his firm conviction that [Islamic State] will be destroyed.”

Authorities now believe Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were inspired by militant appeals on the Internet to attack a holiday party.

Earlier Saturday, after Obama had been briefed by Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James B. Comey and other senior law enforcement and intelligence officials, the White House said authorities still had not turned up any evidence indicating the couple were part of a terrorist network.

FBI technicians are trying to reconstruct their digital footprints from partially destroyed computer hard drives, cellphones and their online accounts.

They also are searching for signs the couple may have communicated using encryption to hide their messages.

The couple had not drawn the attention of the FBI or other federal authorities that seek to identify and track potential terrorists even though Farook had used the Internet to make contact with people from the Shabab, an Islamist militant group based in Somalia, and Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria, a federal law enforcement official said.

Malik was a onetime “modern girl” who became deeply religious during college and began posting extremist messages on Facebook after arriving in the U.S., a family member in Pakistan said in an interview with The Times. The relative in Malik's hometown of Karor Lal Esan, who asked to not be identified, said Malik's postings on Facebook were a source of concern for her family.

“She started taking part in religious activities and also started asking women in the family and the locality to become good Muslims,” the family member said.

For the last several days, supporters of Islamic State have used Twitter to praise the lethal attack in San Bernardino, but no official statement from the group appeared until Saturday.

U.S. intelligence analysts have no reason to doubt the authenticity of an Islamic State online broadcast Saturday that claimed last week's rampage was carried out by supporters, an American official said.

The broadcast on the group's official radio station said of the couple, “We pray to God to accept them as martyrs,” but did not claim Islamic State had played a role in planning the attack.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the San Bernardino attack continued. On Saturday, FBI agents raided the home of a friend of Farook as the agency tried to determine whether the man had purchased two of the semiautomatic rifles used in the massacre, according to a law enforcement source.

The source, who asked to remain anonymous because the case is ongoing, said the FBI was seeking to interview Enrique Marquez Jr., who lived at the home, though it was not clear he had anything to do with the violence or knew what Farook did with the guns.

Neighbors said Marquez and Farook appeared to be good friends. Farook, his mother and siblings lived next door for several years before moving out a few months ago.

Family members and friends said they were stunned by the rampage, saying the couple showed no outward signs of radicalism.

They met on a dating website. The couple were married in Islam's holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia last year. The Saudi Embassy in Washington confirmed that Farook spent nine days in the kingdom in the summer of 2014. The couple's daughter was born in May, according to records.

Farook and Malik had amassed an arsenal of 2,000 9-millimeter handgun rounds, 2,500 .223-caliber rifle rounds and “hundreds of tools” that could have been used to make explosive devices, authorities said.

The couple fired least 65 shots when they stormed a party at the Inland Regional Center, where about 80 of Malik's co-workers at the San Bernardino Department of Public Health had gathered. Twelve of the 14 dead and 18 of the 21 injured were county employees, police said.

Hours later, the couple exchanged gunfire with police on San Bernardino streets, in a battle that launched bullets into homes and terrified residents.

joseph.tanfani@latimes.com

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

aoun.sahi@latimes.com

Tanfani reported from Washington, Esquivel from Riverside and Sahi from Islamabad, Pakistan. Times staff writers Richard Winton, Tony Barboza, Marisa Gerber, Louis Sahagun, Rong-Gong Lin II, Sarah Parvini, Cindy Carcamo and Dexter Thomas in Los Angeles and Brian Bennett, Richard A. Serrano and David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

10:28 p.m.: This report has been revised throughout for additional details and for clarity. 

5:30 p.m.: Updated with a statement from the White House.

4:08 p.m.: Updated with Obama speech plan.

3:10 p.m.: Updated with Riverside search.

This originally posted at 10:38 a.m.

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