Wednesday 23 May 2018

FBI turn attention to wife in California gun rampage

An unidentified woman and elderly man leave the house of Gulzar Ahmed Malik, the father of shooter Tashfeen Malik
An unidentified woman and elderly man leave the house of Gulzar Ahmed Malik, the father of shooter Tashfeen Malik

Amanda Lee Myers

California killer Tashfeen Malik had started dressing more conservatively, wearing a scarf that covered nearly all her face, and became more devout in her Muslim faith, according to people who knew her in Pakistan.

But her path from there to the bloody events of the past week, when she and her husband slaughtered 14 people in a commando-style shooting rampage at an office party in San Bernadino, remains a mystery.

The FBI, family lawyers and others say they know little about the 29-year-old housewife and mother, apart from what came to light on Friday: that Malik had pledged allegiance to the Isil terror group on Facebook as she and her American-born husband, Syed Farook (28), went on the rampage.

The turn in the investigation raised a host of questions, among them:

If the couple were radicalised, when, where and how did this happen? Were they influenced by Islamist material online or direct contact with extremists?

If it happened before Malik went to the US, did counter-terrorism authorities miss any warning signs when they investigated her before approving her visa?

Which of them was the driving force in the attack?

Natana DeLong-Bas, an assistant professor of theology at Boston College, said the case should cause people to rethink some of their assumptions about extremism.

"We always seem to assume only a man would be capable of making a terrorist attack," she said. "Because we know so little about Tashfeen Malik, it's possible she might have been the main organiser in this event and talked her husband into doing it."

Malik and Farook were killed in a fierce shoot-out with police, hours after they had armed themselves with assault rifles and opened fire on a gathering of Farook's colleagues from the San Bernardino County health department, where he was a restaurant inspector.

The FBI has said it is investigating the rampage as a terrorist attack.

US president Barack Obama was last night due to deliver a prime-time address to the nation on the attack and the government's efforts to keep the nation safe.

Hundreds of FBI employees are working on the case, interviewing people, gleaning information off the internet, conducting searches and analysing evidence, bureau spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Early yesterday, authorities with guns drawn raided a home next door to the house where Farook's family used to live in Riverside, California, breaking windows and using a cutting torch to get into the garage, neighbours said.

The FBI would not say what it was looking for, but a neighbour said an old friend of Farook's lived there.

More than three years ago, that person bought the two assault rifles that were later used in the shooting, but authorities have not been able to talk to him because he checked himself into a mental hospital after the attack, a law-enforcement official said.

The FBI has said the man is not a suspect in the shootings, but agents want to question him.

US officials said Farook had been in contact with extremists via social media, but one official said those contacts were not recent and did not involve any significant players on the FBI's radar.

FBI director James Comey said there was no indication so far that the couple were part of a larger cell or were directed by a foreign terror organisation.

Farook was born in Chicago to Pakistani parents and raised in southern California. Malik arrived in the US in 2014 on a Pakistani passport and a fiancée visa but had spent extended periods of time in Saudi Arabia.

She started studying pharmacy at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the Pakistani city of Multan in 2012.

A maid who worked in the Multan home where Malik lived said she initially wore a scarf that covered her head, but not her face.

A year before she got married, she began wearing a scarf that covered all but her nose and eyes, the maid said.

A relative of Malik's in Pakistan, Hifza Batool, reported hearing similar things from other family members about Malik, her step-niece.

"I heard from relatives that she had become a religious person and she told people to live according to the teachings of Islam," said Ms Batool, a teacher who lives in Karor Lal Esan, about 450km southwest of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

The Farook family lawyers, David Chesley and Mohammad Abuershaid, said none of his relatives had any indication either Farook or his wife held extremist views. The lawyers described Malik as "just a housewife" and warned against rushing to judgment.

Irish Independent

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