San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik sent at least two private messages on Facebook to a small group of Pakistani friends in 2012 and 2014, pledging her support for Islamic jihad and saying she hoped to join the fight one day, two top federal law enforcement officials said Monday.
The new details indicate U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies missed warnings on social media that Malik was a potential threat before she entered the United States on a K-1 fiancee visa in July 2014.
The two Facebook messages were recovered by FBI agents investigating whether Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, received any direct encouragement, financial support or specific instructions from foreign terrorist organizations before they carried out the Dec. 2 attacks.
One of the officials characterized the messages as “her private communications … to a small group of her friends.”
The official added, “it went only to this small group in Pakistan.” The official said they were written in Urdu, an official language of Pakistan.
The second official said Malik “expressed her desire” in one of the posts to become a jihadist in her own right.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation into the San Bernardino attack, which left 14 people dead and 22 wounded.
So far, the FBI has found that the couple separately self-radicalized before they met on the Internet, apparently in 2013. FBI Director James Comey told a Senate panel last week that they may have become radicalized far earlier, but he did not disclose the Facebook messages.
On the day of the shooting at the Inland Regional Center, Malik and Farook used Facebook to declare their joint allegiance to Islamic State, the extremist group that controls large parts of Iraq and Syria. The post was later taken down.
FBI divers, who spent several days searching a San Bernardino lake near the couple’s home, recovered a few items but nothing that could be traced back to the couple, officials also said Monday. The dives were completed Monday.
“At best it was a hunch that something was in there,” said one. The official said a tipster had recalled seeing a couple by the lake on the day of the shootings.
FBI agents continued to interview and investigate Farook’s former neighbor and friend, Enrique Marquez. He has told authorities that he gave the couple two semiautomatic rifles that were used in the attack.
No charges have been filed against Marquez.
Pressing criminal charges against him would cut off “any opportunity to let him lead investigators to any other persons or to an organization with whom he may be or may have been in contact with in the furtherance of the San Bernardino attack or other planned terrorist attacks,” one official said.
John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, said officials are reviewing the K-1 visa screening process in light of the gap exposed in San Bernardino. Applicants must provide fingerprints and pass multiple checks of U.S. criminal, immigration and terrorism databases, as well as a consular interview, to get the visa approved.
The investigations don’t necessarily include every applicant’s social media history, however.
“If a consular officer … feels like it would be valuable or necessary to look at the social media presence of an individual, they can and do conduct those reviews,” Kirby told reporters Monday. “But it's not absolute in every case. Each one is taken individually.”
“It is also a fact, and I'm not speaking about this specific case, that many people disguise their identities on social media. It's also a fact that many of them have in place privacy settings that would prohibit a consular officer from being able to see much of anything in terms of content on their social media platform,” he added.
Other officials said Malik didn’t raise any red flags in the government’s review of her visa application. “There were no indications of any ill intent at the time that visa was issued,” Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, a State Department spokeswoman, said in an interview.
Trudeau said allegations that Malik gave a false home address in her application were not true: “We believe it was the correct answer.”
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week that Malik had listed a false address in Pakistan on her application.
Farook, a U.S. citizen born in Illinois, also would have undergone scrutiny to bring his fiancee into the country.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application would have required him to provide his name and background, and to identify Malik and give her home address. Farook would then have signed the form as a U.S. citizen petitioning to escort his fiancee to the United States for marriage.
Once Farook’s petition was approved, Malik would have been instructed to undergo a medical exam at a clinic specified by the U.S. consulate and then report for a visa interview. There she likely would have filled out a questionnaire about her background.
At that point, barring any problems, the K-1 visa normally is issued within 48 hours.
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