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San Bernardino shooting suspect stopped attending mosque two years ago

Syed Rizwan Farook, the suspect in the San Bernardino mass shooting, was once a regular worshiper at a Riverside mosque.

But two years ago, he stopped attending.

On Thursday, those at the mosque were trying to understand the allegation made against Farook.

A small group of men were there at dawn for prayers. 

“Usually, there’s a lot more,” Mustafa Kuko, director of the Islamic Center of Riverside, said after the services.

“I think maybe people are scared.”

The Farook that congregation members knew was a private, but polite man. He had an interest in cars and had turned his hobby into a side business, fixing automobiles in his garage. Once, after hearing a congregation member's car make a strange noise, he offered to tune it up for free.

For the approximately two years that he came to the mosque, Farook  regularly attended early-morning and late-evening services. He usually headed straight in to prayer and left immediately afterward.

When Farook was spoken to, he was friendly, but otherwise, he did not interact much with the congregation, the director said.

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He did tell Kuko about his marriage plans, and when he got married to his wife — the woman who authorities said accompanied Farook in the attack — he asked whether he could have a celebration at the mosque. Farook invited friends and family members to the party.

Soon after that, Kuko said, Farook disappeared.

“We were all shocked,” Kuko said of hearing that Farook had been linked to the shooting. “That that kind of nice person would do something like this. … If you had told me that he had killed a bird, I would say, ‘No way.’”

One of the victims in the shooting also was a member of the congregation. She is a social worker based in the same center as Farook. She suffered multiple gunshot wounds during the attack, but is recovering and is not in critical condition, Kuko said.

“It’s very likely that they knew each other, and Farook must have known she was there,” Kuko said. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Why he would do this?

“Before he stopped coming, I saw that he was serious about studying the Koran,” Kuko said. “So he knows that we believe that to take one life is to take all life. So for him to do the opposite of what we as Muslims believe … I don’t know.” 

When asked whether he was concerned about anti-Muslim backlash,  Kuko was reserved.

“After September 11th, there was some harassment on the streets,” Kuko said. After the Paris shooting, he added, he didn't hear many complaints.

But, he said, he was used to being in close contact with the police department. When anti-Muslim sentiment has arisen in the past, the department would send officers to protect members of the mosque — just in case. The congregation already has asked Kuko to request police protection.

As dawn broke Thursday, a few latecomers shuffled into the hall. Kuko welcomed them into his office, and offered them Sunny Delight, which he poured into small Styrofoam cups. 

“Why do these problems keep happening to us?” one of them asked.  Others made brief small talk, embraced each other and walked out into the daylight.

Kuko watched them leave.

He said, “They’re trying to be strong.” 

Follow me @dexdigi for more on the intersection of culture and the Internet.

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