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Mystery behind rampage takes ominous tone as probe shifts to ‘typical housewife’

Everything in the Redlands townhouse suggested the ordinary life of a young family: dirty dishes in the sink, family photo albums, Christmas lights, an iPhone, boxes of Pampers, a half-empty bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

There were the quiet symbols of devotion: prayer beads, a tapestry with the 99 names for Allah, a donation jar filled with dollars for Muslims for Humanity, a children’s book on Islamic manners and the Koran, translated by a noted Indian peace activist.

Neighbors and family say it was here where a quiet couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, began a life together with their new baby.

But authorities also say it is where they amassed a cache of weapons and ammunition, built explosive devices and launched a massacre that killed 14 people at a holiday gathering of Farook’s co-workers.

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The mystery over why the couple, dressed in black tactical gear, opened fire took an ominous turn Friday when officials said Malik had pledged allegiance on Facebook to a leader of Islamic State just as Wednesday’s attack was getting under way.

The revelations shifted the focus of the investigation squarely onto Malik, the 29-year-old woman who was described as quiet, shy and doting.

The couple’s infant daughter was born in May, according to records.

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

Nizaam Ali, 23, said Friday he thought Malik’s niqab 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.”

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 fiancee visa. After a background check by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, she was granted a conditional green card last summer.

Mohammad Abuershaid, an attorney representing Farook’s 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],” Abuershaid said.

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, Abuershaid said. Farook’s mother lived with the couple, staying mainly upstairs. Farook liked to tinker in his garage, which he considered his “man cave,” he said.

“Tashfeen was an individual who kept to herself most of the time,” Abuershaid said, adding she was a “typical housewife.”

During family gatherings, “the women would sit with the women, men with the men. Men did not interact with her,” Abuershaid said. “Brothers have never seen her face. She was totally covered. They just knew her as ‘Syed’s wife.’ ”

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

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

“It went into deep, scary witch-hunt mode,” said David Chesley. “None of the family members had any idea that this was going to take place.”

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 province of Punjab, an area that is considered a stronghold of Islamist 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.

Farook and Malik had amassed an arsenal of 2,000 9 mm 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. They both died in the shootout.

When asked about the influence Malik may have exerted over her husband, the lead official on the case, David Bowdich, touched upon a familiar domestic theme.

“Being a husband myself,” he said, “we’re all influenced to an extent.”

Bowdich said the the couple attempted to destroy their “digital fingerprints.” He added that two crushed cellphones were found in a trash can.

Farook had grown up in the Inland Empire, where he attended La Sierra High School in Riverside. A childhood friend described how Farook built forts in the front yard and enjoyed shooting hoops on the driveway basketball court.

As a student, he helped classmates with their homework, and in 2010 graduated from Cal State San Bernardino with a degree in environmental health.

Farook worked for the county as a health inspector, where colleagues say he spoke easily with colleagues at work even when the conversation shifted to religion, politics and Islam.

Kuuleme Stephens, a friend of one of the victims, overheard one of these conversations. Nicholas Thalasinos, a Messianic Jew, and Farook had differing beliefs. Thalasinos wore a tie clip with the Star of David, and Farook believed that Israel did not belong in the Middle East.

But when Stephens overheard their conversation, their tone didn’t “set off any bells or whistles.”

On Wednesday morning, Farook and Malik left the child in the care of her grandmother before setting out to the holiday party in the black Expedition loaded with guns.

The couple’s daughter is in the care of Child Protective Services pending a hearing next week, said Abuershaid, the Farook’s family attorney.

He added that the girl would likely end up with Farook’s sister.

soumya.karlamangla@latimes.com

brian.bennett@latimes.com

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Thomas Curwen, Corina Knoll, Marisa Gerber, Richard Winton, Paloma Esquivel, Laura J. Nelson, Jack Dolan, Richard A. Serrano, Ruben Vives, Matt Stevens, Hailey Branson-Potts, Sarah Parvini, Matt Hamilton, Rong-Gong Lin II, Veronica Rocha, Dexter Thomas, Joel Rubin, Kate Mather, Taylor Goldenstein, Anh Do, Lauren Raab, Christine Mai-Duc, Stephen Ceasar, Cindy Chang, Harriet Ryan, Garrett Therolf, Paresh Dave, Phil Willon and special correspondent Aoun Sahi.

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