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FBI probes Islamic State, terror links to San Bernardino massacre

President Obama vowed Saturday that investigators would "get to the bottom" of the San Bernardino shooting massacre as the FBI investigated links between the shooters and terrorist groups.

One of the assailants, Tashfeen Malik, pledged allegiance to an Islamic State leader in a Facebook posting, officials said. Her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, had contact with people from at least two terrorist organizations overseas, including the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria, a federal law enforcement official said.

On Saturday, several news organizations, including CNN and the Associated Press, said the Islamic State described the couple as "supporters" of the group in an online radio broadcast. 

The broadcast declared, "We pray to God to accept them as martyrs" but did not say whether the terror organization played any role in the planning of the San Bernardino attack.

FBI Director James Comey said that the assailants showed signs of “radicalization” but that there was no evidence they were part of a larger terrorist network.

President Obama, in his weekly radio address Saturday, said investigators are still trying to get a "fuller picture" of the shooters' motives.

"It is entirely possible that these two attackers were radicalized to commit this act of terror," the president said. "And if so, it would underscore a threat we’ve been focused on for years — the danger of people succumbing to violent extremist ideologies."

Obama also renewed his call for tighter controls on guns.

"We know that the killers in San Bernardino used military-style assault weapons — weapons of war — to kill as many people as they could," the president said. "It’s another tragic reminder that here in America, it’s way too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun.

"For example, right now, people on the no-fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane," he said. "If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun. And so I’m calling on Congress to close this loophole, now."

Farook and Malik died in a police shootout Wednesday, several hours after bursting into a holiday potluck for the San Bernardino County Health Department and killing 14 people.

Authorities in Pakistan said Friday they were investigating whether Malik had ties to Islamic militant organizations.

Officials cautioned that Malik's Facebook posting did not mean that the militant group directed her and her husband to carry out the attack and that investigators think it instead suggests that the couple had become self-radicalized.

A Facebook spokesman confirmed that the company had taken down the profile page, which included the post cited by law enforcement officials. He said the post was discovered a day after the shooting when Facebook employees conducted a search of the site for the shooters’ names.

The company’s policy, he said, was to remove posts that “support or glorify” terrorism. The post had gone up about 11 a.m. Wednesday, around the same time the shooting began, he said.

Facebook provided the contents of the post to law enforcement, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Witnesses and police have said Farook, a county public health worker, had been at the holiday party Wednesday but left, possibly after a disagreement with a co-worker, and returned with Malik to attack the gathering.

That could be construed as workplace violence, the law enforcement source said, noting that evidence and witness recollections suggest that they shot Farook’s supervisors first. Or, the source said, “after they got away” and were missing for several hours, they might have hoped to launch a previous plan for an even larger strike. 

An acquaintance who prayed with Farook at a San Bernardino mosque told The Times that the shooter said he liked his wife because she wore a niqab, a veil that covered almost all of her face.

Nizaam Ali, 23, said Friday he thought that Farook liked Malik's niqab because it showed she was religious and wasn't embodying "the modern role of women today, working and all that."

Ali, a student at Cal State San Bernardino, said he occasionally talked to Farook at Dar al Uloom al Islamiyah of America mosque.

Ali remembered Farook saying something like, "That's what really made me interested in her. That's what made her stick out from the other women."

Ali said he thinks wearing a niqab is courageous, especially in the West where people aren't familiar with such clothing. The two men agreed about that, he remembered.

"Other than that, his wife never came up in other conversations," he said.

He said Farook met his wife online, a practice that Ali said is common among his friends. "In our community, it's different," he said, noting that it's difficult for Muslim men to find women to marry. "Internet has become something that eases it."

Ali said he had met Malik on a few occasions, but the niqab obscured her face. "If you asked me how she looked, I couldn't tell you," he said.

The couple were married in Islam’s holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia last year, according to Farook's co-workers at the Health Department and others who knew them. The Saudi Embassy in Washington confirmed that Farook spent nine days in the kingdom in the summer of 2014.

Authorities said that when he returned to the U.S. in July 2014, he brought Malik with him on a fiancée visa. After a background check by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, she was granted a conditional green card last summer.

The couple's infant daughter was born in May, according to records. Malik was 29, according to records. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan had erroneously given her age as 27. Farook, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent, was 28.

An attorney representing Farook and Malik's family said Malik never spoke about Islamic State or terrorism.

“As far as I know, there was no discussion of any of that [among family members]," Mohammad Abuershaid said.

The couple hadn't been married that long, he said. "It wasn’t like the family had much time to get to know her."

Abuershaid said that the family was very conservative and that it would have been unlikely that Malik discussed her thoughts on world events, including the trouble in the Middle East, with her in-laws.

“Tashfeen was an individual who kept to herself most of the time,” Abuershaid said. He added that she was a soft-spoken housewife who stayed at home with the baby.

The family has met with the FBI and plans to meet with agency officials again Monday, the attorney said.

Another lawyer for the family said authorities questioned Farook's mother and siblings for hours. 

"It went into deep, scary witch-hunt mode," David Chesley said.

He said agents requested Farook and Malik's wedding guest list.

Pakistani intelligence agents say they have questioned members of Malik's extended family in the Pakistani province of Punjab, an area that is considered a stronghold of Islamic militant organizations. 

Malik belonged to an educated, politically influential family from Karor Lal Esan in Layyah district. Malik Ahmad Ali Aulakh, one of her father's cousins, was once a provincial minister. Residents said the Aulakh family is known to have connections to militant Islam. 

"The family has some extremist credentials," said Zahid Gishkori, 32, a resident of the Layyah district in the area who knows the family well.

A federal law enforcement source said Malik and Farook made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy their electronic devices.

David Bowdich, the assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, said that investigators have recovered evidence of multiple explosive armaments and that the assailants tried to destroy their "digital fingerprints."

He added that two crushed cellphones were found in a trash can.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said it appeared the shooters also had smashed their computers. "They didn't do that good of a job," she said. "So there'll be some reconstruction."

FBI Director Comey said his agency is trying to determine whether the assailants were inspired by foreign terrorist organizations.

“We are spending a tremendous amount of time, as you might imagine, over the last 48 hours trying to understand the motives of these killers and trying to understand every detail of their lives,” Comey said. “We know that this is very unsettling for the people of the United States. What we hope you will do is not let fear become disabling, but to instead channel it into an awareness of your surroundings." 

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 at least 65 shots when they stormed a party at the Inland Regional Center, where about 80 people 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, launching bullets into homes and terrifying residents.

Farook and Malik used two semiautomatic rifles and two semiautomatic handguns, all of which were bought legally, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

On Friday morning, dozens of reporters were let inside the Redlands townhouse where Malik and Farook lived. The doors and windows were boarded up, and the home was sparsely decorated. The upstairs had a crib, baby toys and children’s books.

In the middle of the living room, a copy of the Koran rested on a small black table. On another table was a lengthy list of items the FBI had seized in its investigation: Christmas lights, an iPhone, boxes and bags of ammunition, letters, a passport and gun accessories.

Times staff writers Veronica Rocha, Paresh Dave, Jack Dolan, Richard Winton, Kate Mather, Rong-Gong Lin II, Joseph Serna, Aoun Sahi, Phil Willon, Matt Stevens and Corina Knoll contributed to this report.

MORE ON SAN BERNARDINO SHOOTING

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Media ripped for TV coverage from home of San Bernardino shooters

FBI seized guns, ammo, computer and notebook from home of San Bernardino shooters

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

8:10 a.m.: This story was updated with information from President Obama and remarks made in his weekly radio address.

Dec. 5, 6:11 a.m.: This story was updated with new information throughout.

6:18 p.m.: This story was updated with a clarification that the shooters used semiautomatic rifles.

5:41 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

4:43 p.m.: This story was updated with additional comments from attorneys for the family of the shooters.

4:13 p.m.: This story was updated with information about Tashfeen Malik's extended family in Pakistan.

3:47 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from a Facebook official.

3:04 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from attorneys for the family of the shooters.

1:28 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from David Bowdich of the Los Angeles FBI office.

12:48 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from FBI Director James Comey.

12:34 p.m.: This story was updated with a correction on Tashfeen Malik's age.

11:30 a.m.: This story was updated with an interview from a federal law enforcement official.

10:39 a.m.: This story has been updated with information about the shooters' home.

10:09 a.m.: This story has been updated with an interview with an acquaintance of Syed Rizwan Farook.

9:18 a.m.: This story has been updated with new information from the shooters' attorney.

This story was first published at 8:47 a.m. Dec. 4.

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