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California

Enrique Marquez focus of intrigue and mystery in San Bernardino terrorism probe

San Bernardino shootings

A sign stands in front of a mailbox at Enrique Marquez’s home, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Riverside, Calif. Authorities have said Enrique Marquez, an old friend of San Bernardino attacker Syed Farook, purchased two assault rifles used in last week’s fatal shooting that killed 14 people.

(Jae C. Hong / AP)

Ten days into the San Bernardino massacre investigation, Enrique Marquez has emerged as a focus of both intrigue and mystery.

The childhood friend of one of the shooters has provided volumious information to the FBI, law enforcement sources say.

But it remains unclear what role if any Marquez played in the attack and what he knew about the shooters’ intentions.

Friends and family describe him as a mild-mannered, easily impressionable person that they doubt would be involved in terrorism. 

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“He couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag," said Jerry Morgan, who runs a Riverside bar where Marquez sometimes worked.

Examination of evidence found in the home of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who killed 14 people at a San Bernardino officer party last week, has led FBI investigators to believe that the shooters were planning an even larger assault, according to federal government sources.

Farook and Malik, who were married and had a young daughter, were in the final planning stages of an assault on a location or building that housed a lot more people than their Dec. 2 attack site, the Inland Regional Center, possibly a nearby school or college, according to federal sources familiar with the widening investigation.

Investigators have based that conclusion on data recovered from Farook and Malik’s computers and digital devices, not all of which the couple were able to destroy before they were killed in a firefight with police hours after their rampage, the sources said.

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Images of San Bernardino-area schools were found on a cellphone belonging to Farook, according to a law enforcement source. But the source cautioned that Farook may have had a legitimate reason to have the images because his work as a county health inspector involved checking on school dining facilities.

On Thursday, one of the federal government sources told the Los Angeles Times that in 2011 or 2012 Farook asked Marquez to buy two military-style rifles that were to be used in the attacks because Farook feared he “wouldn’t pass a background check” if he attempted to acquire the weapons on his own. The rifles were bought at a local gun store, the source said.

The timing of the rifle purchases is significant to FBI investigators. Another federal government source previously told The Times that Farook may have been considering a separate terror plot in 2011 or 2012.

Farook was self-radicalizing around that time, FBI Director James Comey said, and met Malik soon after, eventually marrying her and bringing her to the United States. Farook was a practicing Muslim. Marquez converted to Islam around the time he purchased the weapons, sources have told The Times.

FBI agents believe Farook abandoned his plans to launch the earlier attack after a law enforcement task force arrested three men in Chino in November 2012. The men were later convicted of charges related to providing material support to terrorists and plotting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. A fourth man arrested in Afghanistan also was convicted in the scheme.

Marquez has been a key sources of information to investigators. The FBI had been conducting interviews with the 24-year-old, who checked himself in to a mental health facility after the attacks.

The former Wal-Mart security guard has waived his Miranda rights and cooperated with the inquiry, and it was Marquez who told FBI agents about Farook’s earlier plans, according to one of the government sources, who requested anonymity.

“They were talking generally about something, but I don’t think it made it to anything specific,” one of the sources said of the earlier plot. “I don’t think it got to a time or a place.”

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The source said it remains unclear whether Marquez had any involvement in the planning of the shooting or had any prior knowledge that an attack was pending.

Morgan, the Riverside bar owner, woke up to his phone ringing at 2 a.m. on Monday, unsure of who would be calling so early in the morning. 

It was the the FBI and they had questions about Marquez, who worked at his bar.

Morgan said he was in shock.

“Enrique wasn’t a violent kid,” he said. “He wasn’t a tough guy ... that’s what’s spooky about it.”

Marquez, 24, checked IDs at the door during rock shows at Morgan’s Tavern, a small dive bar in the corner of a strip mall in Riverside, a couple of times a month. Some nights, he would come in and drink a pint of beer, sit in the middle of the U-shaped bar and talk to other patrons at the tavern, which they affectionately dubbed “the friendly bar.”

Friday night, the usual din of the tavern was reduced to a handful of people playing pool and switching between Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Buddy Miles on the jukebox.

“If this incident hadn’t have happened, he’d probably be here saying, ‘Hey, you gonna buy me a beer?’” Morgan said.

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The bar owner described Marquez as an impressionable boy next door, and said he believed the young man could have been influenced by Farook. Over the course of four years, he said, he never heard anything suspicious come out of Marquez’s mouth.

“Anyone who talks about terrorism, sleeper cells, they’d get their ass thrown out pretty quickly,” he said. Had he heard anything alarming, Morgan added, he would have been the first person to call the FBI.

Morgan said he felt like he knew Marquez, but they weren’t so close that they would “do lunch.”

“People felt comfortable around him,” he said.

Marquez would make sure women in the bar had places to sit or find rides for people who had too much to drink.

Marquez, a cycling enthusiast who wanted to join the U.S. Navy, was a longtime friend and neighbor of Farook. He also married the sister of Farook’s sister-in-law last year, although the circumstances of the union are now under investigation, a government official previously told The Times.

There was no paperwork transferring ownership of the assault rifles from Marquez to Farook, as required by California law, government officials told The Times.

Hours after the shooting, Marquez posted a cryptic message on his Facebook page.

“I’m. Very sorry sguys,” the message read. “It was a pleasure.”

David Bowdich, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, on Thursday declined to answer questions about Marquez, who has not been charged with a crime.

Marquez told FBI agents that the Facebook post has been “misunderstood,” according to one of the government sources. Agents are concerned that Marquez’s mental and emotional state may affect what he has been telling interrogators, the source said.

While Marquez has spoken to agents about his ties to Farook, federal officials are still working to verify the information he has provided, the source said.

Marquez’s mother, Armida Chacon, addressed reporters on Thursday from her Tomlinson Avenue home in Riverside, sobbing as she said she hadn’t been in contact with her son since the day of the massacre.

“I don’t know how this happened .... My world is upside-down,” she said. “My life changed Wednesday.”

On Friday, FBI investigators recovered several items from a San Bernardino lake as they looked for electronics and other items left by the shooters, according to law enforcement sources. The source did not say what was found, but officials expect the search of Seccombe Lake and the canvassing of the surrounding neighborhood to continue.

Investigators received a tip that the shooters may have visited the area on the day of the attack, according to Bowdich.

Two congressmen, after receiving an intelligence briefing Thursday, said neighbors of the shooters’ told investigators they witnessed “suspicious activity” at the couple’s home before the attack but did not report it to authorities. 

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