Amid Farook family violence, brothers were a study in contrasts

Syed Farook, father of one of the San Bernardino shooters, arrives home to a media swarm in Corona, Calif.

Syed Farook, father of one of the San Bernardino shooters, arrives home to a media swarm in Corona, Calif.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The brothers were a study in contrasts.

Syed Raheel Farook was the extrovert — loud and sociable with an air of nonchalance. Acquaintances said he preferred to walk a casual line when it came to religion. He told people he “wasn’t into Islam,” dated a non-Muslim girl, imbibed freely and showed up at a local mosque primarily to please his family.

After graduating from La Sierra High in Riverside, he joined the Navy and received medals for service in the “Global War on Terrorism.”

The brother two years his junior was soft-spoken and reserved. Syed Rizwan Farook had a reputation for being pleasant but introverted. He enjoyed fixing old cars and shooting hoops. He joined the Muslim Club at school, memorized the Koran and was outwardly devout.


Years ago, he once grew irate when his brother — hair still wet from a shower — requested a few more minutes to ready himself before heading to prayers.

“Rizwan was yelling. He was cursing,” recalled Shakib Ahmed, 32, who was at the house that day and attended the same mosque. “Raheel just said, ‘All right, all right,’ like it was nothing. He was laid-back.”

Although younger, “Rizwan was kind of the boss,” Ahmed said.

The Farook family had come from modest means. Pakistani immigrants, the parents made their way to Chicago, where Syed Rizwan Farook was born. After moving to the Inland Empire, the father worked as a truck driver, while the mother became a clerk at Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center.

Neighbors recall the family keeping chickens, roosters and goats on their property. While raising four children, the couple declared bankruptcy in 2002.

Life at home was turbulent. In court records, Rafia Farook detailed a violent marital history in which her children often had to intervene.

In 2006 divorce filings, she said her husband of 24 years was physically and verbally abusive. She referred to him as a negligent alcoholic and said his hostility had forced her and the children to move out.

Later, in multiple requests for domestic-violence protection, the mother detailed the maltreatment she said she encountered and that her children witnessed: Her husband — also named Syed — had dropped a TV on her while he was intoxicated. Another time, he pushed her toward a car. After a drunken slumber, he shouted expletives and threw dishes in the kitchen.

“Inside the house he tried to hit me. My daughter came in between to save me,” she said about one incident.

She also said her husband was suicidal and described a February 2008 incident when he threatened to kill himself. She called her husband’s brother in Chicago, who notified local police. They alerted Riverside authorities, who arrived at the home. Her husband was placed in a county hospital for a 72-hour observation period, she said.

A neighbor said the Farooks kept to themselves. If there was fighting, it took place behind closed doors, said Rosie Aguirre. The mother, she said, appeared to be very much the head of the family.

“Bossy, to put it lightly,” said Aguirre, who has lived in the neighborhood for two decades.

Working part time at the hospital for $16 an hour, Rafia Farook sought custody of the couple’s teenage daughter, Eba. She proposed that her son Syed Rizwan Farook supervise future visits between her husband and daughter.

In April 2008, Rafia Farook halted divorce proceedings. But one month later, she filed a petition for legal separation, citing irreconcilable differences. Her husband, she said in court papers, had not held a steady job for “a long time.” They divorced earlier this year.

Despite bearing witness to an unstable marriage, Syed Rizwan Farook seemed intent on settling down. His online dating profile said he was looking for someone who took his Sunni Muslim faith seriously. He had studied environmental health at Cal State San Bernardino and taken a job with the county. He didn’t drink or smoke and was growing out his beard.

He brought Tashfeen Malik to the United States on a fiancee visa last year. Family members said they were not “overly close” to the 29-year-old woman who had been born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia. They never even saw her face, since Malik wore a niqab, which revealed only her eyes.

“She was totally covered,” said one of the family’s attorneys. “They just knew her as ‘Syed’s wife.’”

In the aftermath of last week’s deadly act of terror that killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center, the Farooks have found themselves fielding an extreme amount of attention and scrutiny. Family members were held for hours — grilled about the gunman and his wife’s social media activity, affiliation with religious sects, changes in behavior and dress, and possible proselytizing. FBI agents demanded a list of guests at the couple’s Saudi Arabia wedding as well as their local reception.

The night of the shooting, Farook’s brother-in-law offered a universal sentiment: “Why would he do something like that?” he said.

Attention has also turned to Farook’s 30-year-old brother, whose wife’s sister is married to a friend who bought two of the semiautomatic rifles used in the attack. Three days after the shooting, police were called to Syed Raheel Farook’s Corona home after an unidentified woman reported a domestic disturbance. A spokesman for the Riverside County district attorney’s office said the office was reviewing the case.

Until a few weeks ago, Syed Rizwan Farook regularly stopped by his brother’s home for Sunday dinners, said a neighbor who lives two doors down. The brothers’ father had moved in with Syed Raheel Farook and often baby-sat his child.

“He’s really nice, very talkative,” said Brittani Adams, 24, about the father.

The father struck up a conversation with Adams’ husband, admiring the gold 1970s Jaguar in their driveway. He mentioned that his other son had a penchant for repairing cars. About a week ago, Adams said she noticed that large boxes and furniture were being loaded out of the house and into vehicles at night.

After the shooting, an Italian newspaper ran a story that said Farook’s father said his 28-year-old son agreed with the ideology of Islamic State leaders and was “obsessed” with Israel.

But a family spokesman said the elder Farook did not recall making that comment. The spokesman, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the Los Angeles area, added that the father was stressed and on medication.

His ex-wife had lived with Syed Rizwan Farook and Malik in Redlands.

“It stretches the imagination to believe that she didn’t have some kind of knowledge … about what was going on,” said Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), who reviewed information on the shooting.

The morning of Dec. 2, the couple left their 6-month-old daughter in Rafia Farook’s care. At about 11 a.m., the shooting began.;;

Times staff writers Kate Mather, Jack Dolan and Paloma Esquivel contributed to this report.


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