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Brother of San Bernardino killer Tashfeen Malik says family in Saudi Arabia is devastated

Brother of San Bernardino killer Tashfeen Malik says family in Saudi Arabia is devastated
This July 27, 2014, file photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Rizwan Farook, as they passed through O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (Associated Press)

The brother of San Bernardino killer Tashfeen Malik said members of his family in Saudi Arabia are devastated by the attack last week that left 14 people dead and several wounded.

"It's a disaster for our life," said Saad Gulzar Malik, who lives in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where his sister spent part of her life before moving to the United States in 2014.

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"We don't have any idea about what happened over there," Malik said in a phone interview Friday. "We are only learning about it from news reports."

Malik said his father, who lives in the coastal city of Jeddah, has been questioned by Saudi intelligence officials about the deadly rampage his sister carried out with her U.S.-born husband, Syed Rizwan Farook.

The couple opened fire Dec. 2 at a holiday party at San Bernardino's Inland Regional Center, hours before dying in a gun battle with police.

U.S. officials say the pair were inspired by foreign extremist organizations, including Islamic State, but have yet to piece together exactly when and where the two were radicalized or whether they had support from anybody else.

The investigation has spanned continents, from the suburban Redlands community where the couple lived with their infant child, to Pakistan, where Tashfeen Malik once studied at a conservative religious school. Investigators are also looking at Malik's ties in Saudi Arabia, where she is believed to have spent much of her childhood and adolescence, and where she first met her husband after getting to know him on an online dating website for Muslims.

Saudi Arabia, which is dominated by a conservative branch of Islam that some say has contributed to the rise of violent fundamentalism in the Middle East, has struggled to contain terrorism in the past.

The country, a longtime U.S. ally, came under scrutiny in 2001 after 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were found to be from there. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of those attacks, was born in Riyadh.

Between 2003 and 2006, Saudi Arabia was shaken by terrorism on its own soil, as Al Qaeda militants unleashed a wave of deadly bombings, shootings and kidnappings in the kingdom.

More recently, the country has been targeted by Islamic State.

Security officials say hundreds of Saudis have returned home after going to Syria to fight for Islamic State. In response, the Saudi government last year enacted a series of measures criminalizing the provision of any support to terrorist groups and making participation in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

"It's a constant problem," said David Ottaway, Middle East Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, who said Saudi officials have broken up multiple plans for attacks by extremists on Saudi soil.

In the days since the San Bernardino attack, Saudi officials have sought to downplay Tashfeen Malik's ties to the kingdom. But some family members say she spent part of her formative adolescent years here, which means she may have had a front seat to some of Saudi Arabia's violence.

Malik was born in Pakistan in 1986. Shortly after, her engineer father relocated to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to work at a construction firm.

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Malik's relatives in Pakistan have said she joined her father in Saudi Arabia at some point and was influenced by the country's conservative brand of Islam. They said she later returned to Pakistan to study pharmacology and attend a religious college there.

Saudi officials say immigration records show Malik visited from Pakistan in July 2008 and again in 2013, when she traveled on hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime. Saudi officials say Farook was in the country for the pilgrimage at the same time.

She joined him in the U.S. the following year after receiving what is known as a fiancée visa.

Malik's brother said he was not at liberty to talk about the details of his sister's life because Saudi officials have warned his family not to speak to the media.

"My father has already spoken to the government and they said we cannot do any interviews," Saad Malik said. "We don't know the law over here and we don't want to create any problems for our families, for our children."

But he did tell of his grief. Malik has taken a leave from work and is trying to process what happened to his sister, who was 29.

"We are crying for more than one week now," he said.

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