The mystery woman behind San Bernardino massacre
Even her mother-in-law, who lived with her for six years, knows nothing, writes Frank Baker
Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30
The Pakistani woman who joined her US-born husband in killing 14 people in a commando-style assault on his co-workers in California is at the centre of a massive FBI terrorism investigation, yet she remains shrouded in mystery.
The FBI acknowledges knowing little about Tashfeen Malik. Those who attended mosque with her husband, Syed Farook, say they know nearly nothing about her. Even Farook's mother, who lived with the couple and their six-month-old daughter, knows little, according to lawyers for Farook's family.
The lawyers described the 27-year-old as "just a housewife" who was quiet like her husband and strictly followed Muslim custom.
She wore traditional clothing that covered her face so her male relatives did not even know what she looked like, according to the lawyers.
Authorities say she wore a combat-style outfit on Wednesday, when she and Farook attacked a holiday luncheon in San Bernardino. A few hours later, they were killed in a shootout with police.
The FBI announced it is investigating the mass shooting as an act of terrorism. If proven to be terrorism, it would be the deadliest attack by Islamic extremists on American soil since September 11, 2001.
A US law enforcement official said Malik used a Facebook alias to pledge her allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader just before the shootings.
FBI director James Comey would not discuss whether anyone affiliated with Isil communicated back, but he said there was no indication yet that the plot was directed by any other foreign terror group, or that the couple were part of a larger group.
Despite signs of the couple's radicalisation, there "is a lot of evidence that doesn't quite make sense" at this early stage, he said.
An Islamic State-affiliated news service called Malik and Farook "supporters" of their Islamist cause but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack.
The Farook family's lawyers, Chesley and Mohammad Abuershaid, said none of his relatives had any indication either Farook or his wife held extremist views.
"If the most evidence there is to any affiliation is a Facebook account under another person's name . . . then that's hardly anything at all," Chesley said.
The Farook family lawyers said he told relatives he had been teased at work about his beard.
In Pakistan, a relative of Malik said she apparently became a more zealous follower of the Muslim faith about three years ago.
Hifza Batool said other relatives have said that Malik, who was her step-niece, used to wear Western clothes but began wearing the hijab head covering or the all-covering burka about three years ago.
"I recently heard it from relatives that she had become a religious person and she often told people to live according to the teachings of Islam," said Ms Batool (35), a teacher.
Farook had no criminal record, and neither he nor his wife was under scrutiny by local or federal law enforcement before the attack, authorities said.
Malik reportedly moved from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and eventually came to the US in 2014 on a fiancee visa. However, Saudi authorities say there is no record of her ever being a resident there.
Farook was born in Chicago to Pakistani parents and raised in California.
Farook went to the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah of America mosque in San Bernardino every day but abruptly stopped coming three weeks ago. While many members said they knew Farook and described him as quiet and very studious, "no one knows anything about his wife", said Mahmood Nadvi, son of the mosque's founder.
Meanwhile, an FBI official has confirmed that the couple crushed their mobile phones before the attack.
"They attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints," said David Bowdich, assistant FBI director in Los Angeles. "We do hope that the digital fingerprints that were left by these two individuals will take us to their motivation."
Using phone records, investigators know that Farook was in conversation with at least several people under FBI investigation for possible ties to terrorism, according to one of the law enforcement officials. But they don't know the nature of those conversations and are chasing leads to prevent future violence and to determine whether Farook and his wife were part of a terrorist network.